More grey matter at gainline

Eddie Jones says Springbok players have the intellectual and technical skills to generate a quick turnaround of their sterile attacking play but stressed their tactics, particularly at the gainline, have to improve.

There has been widespread dismay at the Springboks’ perceived attacking conservatism. The bulk of the criticism has been aimed at predictable forward punches at the gainline and a heavy focus on tactical kicking.

There certainly hasn’t been a lack of time spent in the opposition’s 22m, but their play in that zone has largely been uninspiring and lacking a clear plan or consistently good option taking.

There is virtually no chance of the Springboks winning the Rugby Championship title, but there have to be significant improvements across the board, with their attack a focal point.

Jones speaks with authority on this subject given his success in his role as an attack consultant with the World Cup winning Springboks of 2007.

The team were the top try scorers at the tournament in France, winning many admirers with the fluent and potent style. There wasn’t a dramatic departure from their traditional strengths, but Jones refined and added subtle dimensions to their attacking play. The two combined to be a potent cocktail which the former Australia head coach believes this generation of Springboks can rediscover if they make some changes.

‘The basic problem at the moment is a lack of [a discernible] attacking philosophy in terms of how they want to play,’ Jones, now Japan head coach, told keo.co.za. ‘Their play at the moment is early 2000 Bulls forward attack – one-off runners that rely on brute strength to win the gainline.’

Meyer’s early Bulls teams (to whom Jones refers) were predictable and struggled as a result, losing heavily in their formative years. They gradually improved their attacking repertoire and became one of Super Rugby’s most prolific try-scorers, particularly in their three championship-winning campaigns.

Time, however, is not a commodity Meyer has in abundance. His team have lost two and drawn two of their seven Tests, testing the faith of even Meyer’s most ardent supporters. Jones, however, is optimistic. The improvements he was the catalyst for happened off the back of only a couple of weeks with the team. He said there has to be a purposeful shift towards adding greater variation though.

‘South African players are skilful and good learners, so a quick turnaround is there. [But] they need to get a cohesive attacking philosophy based on approaching and hitting the gainline with options. [If they do] the team’s attack will improve considerably.’

By Ryan Vrede