Some thoughts on the weekends test matches

Nick Mallet during his tenure as Springbok coach made himself very unpopular by saying that he is not too concerned about criticism from South African rugby fans because in his opinion they don’t know much about the game anyway.

Coincidently, he now seems to be as critical as the SA rugby fans about the rugby dished-up by his prodigy’s Springbok team.

Where Mallet was hostile and pompous towards the media Heynecke seems to be more open and willing to show the public that their opinions count.   

Annoyingly, the more HM explains and asks for patience the more fickle, unhappy and unrealistic SA rugby supporters seem to become.

Is this despondency due to an unrealistic expectation that the Springboks should rampant over everyone else, I’ve been wondering lately?

There have been moments during the matches against Ireland and Scotland when I thought the team was playing well. I could see signs of the Wallabies of 1993 in the Springboks play in the first 15 minutes against Scotland. We just needed a bit more patience and speed onto the ball but the basic game plan was sound and will work if better executed. Leading up to the first penalty Lambie cross kicked to Pietersen who caught the ball but was stopped by his direct opponent. The problem here was the timing of the move. It would have worked better if the opponents were first pulled in by some midfield runs. Also, the support was late. With quicker support Pietersen could have deflected the ball to an incoming runner. In fact if the kick went to a lock standing wide (after some phase play) he could have deflected the ball towards Pietersen coming in with speed.

From this followed a line-out. The play off that line-out reminded me of the try scored by Jason Little during the second test of the 1993 Springbok tour. In similar fashion as the 1993 Ozzies Alberts created depth ball by running with speed onto the ball thrown to the back of the line-out. The boks then took the recycled ball down the backline with Juan de Jongh attempting to cut to the inside of De Villiers who drifted slightly laterally to pull the defenders wide. The move didn’t produce the same spectacular results than was the case in 1993 with Jason Little (see here – 3rd video clip).

Multiple reasons can be given why the Springboks could not pull it off with the same efficiency than the 1993 Ozzies: firstly, being not patient enough; secondly, the backline being to flat; thirdly, not enough speed onto the ball.

They took the ball too soon to the backline (after only one charge in the person of Alberts) during that particular move. You need to create a bit more depth and the boks required at least two more runners coming from depth to disorganise the defence sufficiently.

More patience was also needed; get first things right namely fast recycled ground ball before you take it wide. Because they took the ball too soon to the backline the defenders were still in the backlines faces and the swivel done between the Aussie 10 and 12 was not possible. That double round by No10 is crucial to open the gap in the outside channel as it pulls the opposition 12 inwards and make the opposition 13 hesitate. The end result was that both Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh did not hit the ball at full tilt. De Jongh actually had to stop to change direction.

I can see what HM is trying to do and I believe he is on the right track. The players need a bit more time together. It might help if HM get some video clips of the 1993 Wallabies and show them what he wants. A good backline coach might also help. The lineout is our strength and we need to create play of the back of the line-out. If we get this right we’ll be hard to stop.

Tell you what there was also nothing wrong with the two mauling moves from the line-out; both leading to tries (only one awarded due to sneaky tactics by the Scots during the first one).

Disappointingly, things deteriorated in the second half.  Replacement of key players being a big part of it but also the tendency of the team to go into defensive mode. It is, I believe, fear of making a mistake that has the players stop playing once they are ahead (see my post on over-coaching).

A barrage of scrum penalties against CJ van der Linde and losing a man for 10 minutes -serial yellow card offender Flip van der Merwe- derailed us because it prevented us from getting momentum. This kept the Scots in the game and had them gaining confidence when we should have buried them.

The France / Argentina match was interesting to watch. The way the French, in particular, used the tactical kick to dissolve the trench defensive lines were very thought-provoking.

The moment the defence get too organised into a trench defensive line they (the French) utilized the tactical kick to open the game up. They used stab troughs kicks, box kicks, and long kicks into space as well as dummy runner backline moves to break the defensive line up before suddenly switching to runners charging into the midfield channels.

With the defence then spread they were able to create fast ground ball. There are some lessons for the boks in that match, as a consequence. We are too obessed with All Black rugby; we should develop and cultivate our own strengths and style.

The AB / Italy match was remarkable in the way Italy countered the AB’s pattern of using two or three runners around the fringes to create front foot ball. The AB use quick passes between scrumhalf and two or three forwards flat on the defensive line to keep the defence guessing. You never know who is going to receive, who is just going to be a pivot and who is going to charge into the channel and also to whom is the charger going to off-load. Italy like the Argentinians -in their first encounter against the AB’s this year- just targeted that channel with a number of defenders creating a bit of havoc. Mostly, however the Italians kept the ball in hand and in doing so prevented the All Blacks from running at them.

As a final thought the boks were not spectacular but at least they won which is something that the very experienced 2010 Springbok team did not accomplish.

We need a better backline coach and with a bit more patience with ball in hand and with better sub selections on the bench the boks might just be able to string two good halves together.

Wouldn’t that be something?

8 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the weekends test matches

  1. “Is this despondency due to an unrealistic expectation that the Springboks should rampant over everyone else, I’ve been wondering lately?”

    As an All Black supporter I know that is my expectation of the All Blacks! It might be unrealistic all of the time, but every All Black knows that is what the New Zealand public expects of him. Which is why there is great financial and social reward in being an All Black – as well as a price to pay, because everybody feels they have a right to criticise your work!

    I’d be disappointed if our great rivals the Springboks, and their supporters didn’t have exactly the same expectation of their team. France, or England, or Australia can lose, and it isn’t a national tragedy. Not for NZ or South Africa!

    However, I think the good and valid point you are making is that winning is the result of carefully thought-out and implemented processes. Without those, you can have all the passion, and heritage you want, but you will be disappointed, and that failure to meet high expectations will manifest itself in less-than-profitable public dis-satisfaction.

    You are right that whatever South Africa does, it should be based on its traditional strengths – set piece, mauling, physicality, aggressive defense. I think your prospects over the next three years are good. Who out of Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Daniel Carter, Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock, Kevin Mealamu, and Andrew Hore will still be good enough to make RWC2015? As much as it grieves me to see a Ponsonby man on the way down, Ali Williams probably played his last test today. I think most of those I mentioned above will likely go the same way within the next 3 years.

    • You wrote: “As an All Black supporter I know that is my expectation of the All Blacks! It might be unrealistic all of the time, but every All Black knows that is what the New Zealand public expects of him.”

      Exactly right in the case of Springbok and All Black rugby the expectations is high and so should it be. However, you need to respect the opposition as well. Disrepect or underestimating the opposition seems to be a common theme. We can not go out and play like the Aussies and the All blacks and go rampant scoring heaps of tries which is what some fans seems to be thinking. We’ve never played like that for a reason. The reason being that whenever we tried on previous occasions -like in 1953 against the Wallabies- we lost. We did however play with much flair in 1952 on the EOYT and in 1984 against the visiting England team but we had special players in those teams like Gerber, Micheal du Plessis, Rob Louw, Dennis Fry, Hennie Muller, Basie van Wyk, Hansie Brewis, Tjol Lategan, Tom van Vollenhoven and so forth.

      Being reaslitic and playing within yourself according to your strengths and traditional style is sensible when you don’t have players to play differently.

  2. Also – a bit off topic for this post, and sorry to side track, McLook,, although it isn’t off-topic for your blog: -

    One of the greatest players ever to play against the Springboks, Bob Scott, died yesterday aged 91.

    It has been a hell of a year for great All Blacks (including coaches and administrators) dying this year – Sir Jock Hobbs, Sir Fred Allen, ‘Tiny’ White, Sir Wilson Whineray. All had significant moments as All Blacks, especially against South Africa. But Bob Scott, the All Black fullback on the 1949 tour of South Africa was the greatest of them all. Only Bryan Williams in 1970 had a similar effect against the old enemy, and Beegee, for all his many talents, never really consistently attained the great heights saffers saw on his first tour.

    In contrast, Scott’s talents never wavered. He was never dropped, was coaxed out of retirement twice, and even as a 35 year old the All Black selectors were begging him to come out of retirement again to play the 1956 Springboks.

    In 1949 the great marauding No. 8 Hennie Muller wrought havoc against Fred Allen’s All Blacks, and had such a devastating effect, it was nearly 20 years before All Black back lines even attempted to run the ball. But the one player Muller could never catch was Bob Scott. In one test Muller was certain he finally had Scott nailed. He was chasing on Scott’s tail after the ball had been kicked back towards the NZ goal. Scott picked up the ball but had no room to turn to avoid the Muller tackle. So instead Scott continued running 40 metres to his own try line, wheeled around behind the goal post to avoid Muller, and slammed the ball into touch up at half way!

    Muller in his biography described Scott as, “‘‘altogether, the greatest footballer I’ve ever played against in any position”.

    • I recently acquired Hennie Mullers book ‘totsiens to test rugby’ and what a great read. Read it from cover to cover.

      Yes he truely rated Bob Scott. I always thought Scott was only a good place kicker but he apparently was a terrific footballer agile, fast, true understanding of the game altogether a most gifted rugby player.

      Sad to hear Bob is gone. He was a most modest man and reading Mullers views about him one of the greatest All Blacks ever.

    • If you go and look at the clip of the 1993 Ozzie team you’ll see that our talented backline players will thrive under such conditions. It is unrealsitic to expect young players with flair to go and play with panash when they receive poor quality ball.

      Setting a platform from which to unleash your backline is key and I got the impression that is what Heynecke is trying to do.

  3. It was tough on Flip. I know he has been a serial offender throughout his career, but he really got his act together in his last few tests. Getting the yellow card was more a case of just the next offender wearing a green jumper. Even Lambie would have been sent to the bin if he was caught out slowing the ball down at the time.

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