GRANT BALL writes that Peter de Villiers’ latest excuse that the Springboks didn’t have time to adjust to a new game plan isn’t good enough.
De Villiers’ responses to the Boks’ three losses in the Antipodes have been eccentric. After defeat in Auckland the referees and the local TV producers were blamed for their role in Bakkies Botha’s sin-binning and the adverse effect it had on the Boks. After Wellington, De Villiers believed his side ‘played really well’ despite being outscored by four tries to two. He said he was mystified as to how they’d lost.
De Villiers peddled the conspiracy theory that the perceived poor refereeing performances were linked to the desire to build up hype in New Zealand’s ahead of the World Cup. But now that some introspection has taken place, De Villiers said the Stormers and Bulls players – who reached the final of the Super 14 after dominating the competition – hadn’t had time to gel.
In late July Keo.co.za reported that there are two different camps within the Bok squad, with two distinct playing philosophies. De Villiers has now confirmed this, saying: ‘Last year the bulk of the squad came from the Bulls and the Sharks, who play a similar style of rugby,’ said De Villiers in a statement on Thursday. ‘With more Stormers players coming in this year we have had to adapt a bit.
‘We didn’t have the opportunity, or in fact the time, to get everyone fully on the same page, which we have now been able to do during this week’s training camp.’
De Villiers’ latest justification for why the Boks have performed so poorly doesn’t sit comfortably. De Villiers is saying in four Tests over the June internationals (which was one more than the All Blacks), they didn’t have time to integrate the different mindsets of the players, but after two days in the most recent camp, everything is resolved.
That lack of time is even being used as an excuse is ludicrous. Isn’t it his job to get the players to gel, and it begs the question why wasn’t De Villiers doing sufficient planning during the Super 14? This only reinforces the widely held perception that a core of senior players are running the show.
De Villiers, like Graham Henry and Robbie Deans, watched the entire Super 14, and from halfway through it was clear the Stormers players would be on form as they had a chance of reaching the play-offs and that more of them would be putting their hands up for the Boks (after round seven, the Stormers had won five out of six, while the Sharks had won two out of seven).
Deans and Henry would have been envious at the talent at De Villiers’ disposal, but the Bok coach sees it as a problem. The All Blacks base their side on a core group of Crusaders, who had five starters against Australia, but the Saders’ defensive style is different to the way the Blues and Hurricanes play – who contributed four each. Henry and co haven’t struggled to integrate styles in adapting to the new law interpretations.
Since the completion of last year’s Tri-Nations, the Boks have regressed and have won just one Test out of six against the top five nations. The Blacks are unbeaten, and much of that can go down to how their coaches have improved.
Some who defend De Villiers argue that if the senior players are in control, they should be blamed, and not the coach. But De Villiers is getting paid a hefty salary to be coach of the Boks. He needs to display stronger leadership.
With De Villiers’ admission that he’ll keep the same group of players for the Grand Slam tour and World Cup and not inject new blood, the coaching staff will have to evolve if the players are to stop falling behind.