No square pegs in round holes
11 Jul 2011
RYAN VREDE writes that the Springboks must tailor their approach to suit the available personnel, not try to mould them to suit a predetermined approach in the Tri-Nations .
A string of elite players were last week declared unfit to participate in the tournament, which starts with a Test against Australia in Sydney in a fortnight.
While the squad features some seasoned men like John Smit, Ruan Pienaar and Danie Rossouw, players with little or no Test experience dominate. The task is already an arduous one, but it will be further complicated by the players being asked to execute a playing style that won’t suit their strengths.
Speaking at a media briefing last week, head coach Peter de Villiers said: ‘We’ve planned the way we want to play [at the World Cup] and prepared accordingly for the past year. We have to stick with the plan. That way we’ll know who is best after the incumbents because you can then compare apples with apples. Say, for example, Juan Smith is not ready [for the World Cup], how would you know that the player who replaces him is suitable if you play in a different way?’
I understand the point De Villiers, who is certainly alluding to the persistence with the kick-chase approach, is trying to make. However, taking a glance at the players at his disposal, I get the sense that this course of action would be terminal to their cause.
The Boks’ unrelenting faith in the method stems from their success in playing this way in 2009. However, the player central to its effective execution – Fourie du Preez – will not tour. Neither will Frans Steyn, who was also an important cog in the context of the strategy.
In 2010 the coaching staff asked Ricky Januarie and later Francois Hougaard to play the Du Preez role in the Tri-Nations. Neither enjoyed success. While Ruan Pienaar, the likely starter at scrumhalf on tour, is a competent tactical kicker, it is undoubtedly not his primary strength.
Furthermore, asking Gio Aplon, who is expected to start at fullback, to hoist bombs is criminal. His threat lies with ball in hand. The potency of Juan de Jongh, Bjorn Basson and Lwazi Mvovo (expected to start at outside centre and on the wings respectively) is also diminished if they are deployed to chase punts for the bulk of the match.
In an interview with SA Rugby magazine Du Preez admitted flawed tactics compromised their 2010 season. ‘There are a couple of reasons the Springboks did poorly,’ Du Preez said. ‘The main one is that the guys couldn’t seem to make up their minds about how they wanted to play. In 2009 I was a part of the decision-making process regarding our game plan. I was probably also central to it working. But without me there the guys kept playing the same game, there was no adaptation and not enough appreciation for the strengths and weaknesses of my replacement, be that Ricky Januarie, Francois Hougaard or Ruan Pienaar [on the year-end tour]. Our execution was poor, sure, but I think we could have been more clever tactically.’
This mistake must not be replicated. There needs to be a greater appreciation for the unique gifting of the players in the group. Trying to force square pegs into round holes is senseless.
Springbok touring squad – Gio Aplon, Bjorn Basson, Heinrich Brüssow, Juan de Jongh, Jean Deysel, Dean Greyling, Alistair Hargreaves, Adrian Jacobs, Elton Jantjies, Ashley Johnson, Ryan Kankowski, Werner Kruger, Patrick Lambie, Charl McLeod, Johann Muller, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane, Wynand Olivier, Coenie Oosthuizen, Ruan Pienaar, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Danie Rossouw, John Smit (c), Deon Stegmann, Morne Steyn, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe, CJ van der Linde.