RYAN VREDE, in London, reports Springbok defence coach John McFarland believes there isn’t room in Test rugby for an openside who isn’t equally competent at the breakdown as he is with ball in hand.
This echoes the view head coach Heyneke Meyer expressed in the early part of his tenure and explains why the likes of Heinrich Brussow are unlikely to come into the selection frame for the Springboks.
Indeed the world’s elite opensiders, Richie McCaw and David Pocock, fit the description of the type of player Meyer and McFarland believe to be most effective in the role. Wales’ Sam Warburton is similarly equipped.
The Springboks have benefited hugely from the emergence of Francois Louw as an openside of world-class standing and one that ticks all the boxes that seem to be a prerequisite for success in the position. Certainly a strong argument can be made for him as the pre-eminent player in his position in the world at present, such has been the calibre of his showings since his return to the side in the latter part of the Rugby Championship.
‘Its important to get the mix [in an openside]. The advantage Flo has is that he is 6ft and 112kg. There aren’t many opensiders with the ability to steal and hit guys backwards like he does. Then he brings the carrying aspect as well,’ McFarland said. ‘Flo has offered us massive positives because he has been here [in the northern hemisphere with Bath] so long. He has made a significant difference in our ability to make tackles and get turnovers.’
The Springboks have conceded an average of 1.2 tries per game this season and much of that has to do with Louw’s seeming omnipresence and potency at the breakdown. However, it would be grossly unfair not to commend the efforts of the collective in this regard, with particular emphasis on Louw’s back row partners Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts.
‘They work very well as a combination,’ McFarland said. ‘Willem whacks guys backwards. His first tackle on [Scotland's] Nick De Luca, where he drove him five or six metres backwards, really set the tone for the game. Duane reads things so well and consistently wins the team’s big hit award, while Flo make his turnovers and slows the ball down superbly. Then Marcell Coetzee comes on and gives us that massive work rate. So we’re really pleased there.’
Turning his attention to Saturday’s Test at Twickenham against England, McFarland said their ability to keep midfielders Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi in check would be central to their success.
‘We have to cut down their space and stop their momentum,’ he said, before highlighting another area of focus. ‘There is a big threat off quick-tap penalties from Danny Care, who tends to jump the whistle when advantage is called. So it is a matter of us being alert to that. If you look at their best bits of play against Australia, those came from quick taps and even though they didn’t get the three points they got massive momentum and create many scoring opportunities.’