Boks striving hard for cutting edge

RYAN VREDE, in Edinburgh, reports Springbok forwards coach and technical analyst Johann van Graan says the evolution of their attacking game will take time and is dependent on a range of factors.

The Springboks’ attacking method has been widely lamented as being overly pragmatic and bordering on conservative. Their focus on gaining territory through tactical kicking has, however, reaped considerable reward. Their time spent in the opposition’s 22m compares favourably with the All Blacks, the difference being how clinical the world champions have been once there.

On Monday Heyneke Meyer lamented the ‘unacceptable’ return of tries considering their opportunities in what he described as the ‘goal zone’. ‘The top teams in the world get points when they get in there,’ he said. ‘It may be a coaching or inexperience thing, but it has to improve. We get in the right areas and we get clean ball, but we don’t convert.’

I’ve maintained that the the focus of the criticism of the Springboks has been wrong. How they get into the opposition’s 22m has been targeted, but what they do with possession while there is the real problem.

It would be remiss not to note the affect injuries, (particularly among the back division) have had on the team’s attacking potency. There has never been a settled combination, while three different flyhalves have started, with Elton Jantjies coming on as an early replacement at Soccer City.

However, how they resolve this deficiency should be a matter of great concern. They’ve desperately lacked imagination, flair, unpredictability and precision when shifting the ball wide. Van Graan, who is also involved in the attacking play, said they had a vision of a preferable outcome, but stressed that there are prerequisites for them to get there.

‘You don’t get the end result immediately, its a process. As soon as you get into a winning habit, combinations settle and you gain experience as a team, you can start evolving,’ he said. ‘There have been some massive moments in our game development, with Bryan Habana’s try in Soweto being a prime example of where we want to go with our game. But game development is about tweaking the small things and surprising the opposition like that.’

The Springboks have relied heavily on their rolling maul as an attacking weapon. However, denied the territory they covet against Ireland in the first half on Saturday, they looked impotent and rudderless. They recovered well and were able to hurt Ireland with their rolling maul. But Van Graan warned that this facet of play will come under stern examination against Scotland at Murrayfield once more.

‘It is a big part of the our game. Our base is so vital and the tight five work hard to keep that base up. Once it is then they can’t sack you. From there it’s technique and synergy. It’s when we use it and where you use it,’ he said.

‘You also have to show respect to the opposition, most of the northern hemisphere teams stop the maul quite well by blocking off your middle and back options, and give you the front ball. They hit and sack you there. So you have to be clever and perhaps take a risk.’

He also noted the Scots’ focus on stifling the recycle at the breakdown. They succeeded in patches early in the game in this regard against the All Blacks, before the tourists stepped up their tackle fight and consistently got over the gainline to deny them a crack at the contest.

Van Graan continued, extolling their hosts’ other strengths.

‘They’ve shown that once they get into the 22m, it doesn’t matter how good the defence is, they can keep the ball. They did that quite well against the All Blacks. They’ve also got some big runners in the backline and their mauling and lineout is one of their big strengths. We’ll have to be clever in countering that,’ he noted.