JON CARDINELLI believes Gio Aplon will offer the Boks the attacking impetus they’ve been lacking in this year’s Tri-Nations.
It seems unfair to pick at the Bok attack considering the underwhelming performance by the forwards in the past two matches. The All Blacks were superior at the collisions and used this momentum cleverly, punching holes through the Bok defence first through their relentless forward rumble and then through their incisive backs.
The fact is confirmed by a try-scoring stat that reads New Zealand 8, South Africa 2. The Bok attack has had very few opportunities, and will continue to struggle unless the fatties pull finger and overpower their Antipodean opponents.
Notwithstanding the forward failings, the Bok backline has lacked any real menace. The counter-attacking display and option-taking by the back three has been disappointing, and while fingers will be pointed at the players, some of the blame should be laid at the selectors’ door.
Peter de Villiers favoured Jean de Villiers at right wing in the first two Tests, and given the player’s defensive reputation from an organisational point of view, the Bok coach wasn’t completely off the mark. But in picking De Villiers, the Bok brains trust gave the game away. As long as De Villiers played wing for the Boks, the opposition could kick on his wing knowing there would be no kick return of substance, nor any counter-attacking threat.
Aplon highlighted his value in the dying stages of the Test in Wellington. The diminutive runner was a star in the Super 14 with those gliding runs from deep, and even though the All Blacks kept him honest, he still managed to give the Boks some go-forward. The lightest player on the paddock, he’s rarely smashed back in the tackle. Even when defenders manage to catch him, he still manages to create sufficient space to keep his team going forward.
The Boks have lacked a player as exciting as Aplon for some time. Bryan Habana may be on the verge of breaking Joost van der Westhuizen’s try-scoring record of 38, but the stats will confirm that his strike rate has dropped significantly since the 2007 World Cup (eight tries in 26 Tests since 2008). The same goes for the All Blacks’ Joe Rokocoko, who wouldn’t be considered for the 22 if Sitiveni Sivivatu was fit.
Aplon, Israel Dagg and James O’Connor are the kind of players who give the rugby lover that little bit extra. Those that appreciated the talent of Christian Cullen and Joe Roff will know what I’m talking about. These players lend the attack an unpredictable edge, and in the modern age where defensive lines are so well organised, you need somebody with that uncoachable attacking quality.
If the Boks manage to establish a platform this Saturday, they’re sure to benefit from the crisp service of Ruan Pienaar at the breakdown. The momentum will allow Morne Steyn to first win field position and then unleash his hard-running centres, who will surely target the lightweight Aussie midfield of Matt Giteau and Rob Horne. In the subsequent phases, a runner like Aplon will be a factor as positional mismatches are bound to occur.
The Wallabies will show an appreciation for territory and, like the All Blacks, may invite the Boks to counter-attack against their well organised defence. Aplon offers the Boks options in this respect. His massive left boot has been well used by the Stormers to gain ground from the back, and as was evident in the Super 14, he’s so lethal when he’s afforded space to run from deep.
The Boks needed to outplay the All Blacks’ pack in Auckland and Wellington to win those Tests, but the backline selections were always going to limit their attack. De Villiers’ suspension has now forced the selectors to pick Aplon, and if the Bok forwards deliver at Suncorp Stadium, South Africa should reap the benefits of Aplon’s astounding ability.