Springbok’s forward approach smothering the game?
Heyneke Meyer has done very little this year to confirm the belief the Springbok supporters had in him, when he was announced to take over from Peter de Villiers as Springbok coach.
The record shows that to date, the Springboks won 6 matches from the 11 tests to date, a success rate of 54.5%. It seems quite average, in fact, poor, for someone who stated publicly that he believes in only one kind of Rugby: Winning Rugby.
The approach was clear from the first series against England. Bash the ball up with the forwards, kick for territory and bash it up once again until you win a penalty, or happen to bash it over the try-line.
Heyneke wanted us to believe that the kind of Rugby he has in mind and that the Springboks are playing is played all over the world and that it is just a matter of doing the right things at the right times, which will come with experience.
In Meyer’s defense, experience, or the lack thereof, has been a major issue for the Springboks this year due to the gaps left by John Smit, Gurthro Steenkamp, Bismarck du Plessis, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw, Pierre Spies, Heinrich Brossouw, Juan Smith, Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie. Some moved to greener pastures, others were injured. Frans Steyn also got injured, another experienced player who sat out a part of the Rugby Championship. Others were simply just overlooked. Such as De Jongh, Aplon, Brussow, and Lambie for most of the Rugby Championship.
I did a previous post where I compared the massive decline in experience in the Bok camp to that of the New Zealand camp. YEs, there is reason to believe experience has had a major impact on the Springboks performance this year. And perhaps, just perhaps, the expectations of the fans was by far higher than what was realistic…although those expectations were not given a sense of realism with Meyer making statements like that he only knows winning rugby…
Now, Meyer’s idea of winning Rugby seems to be centred around the very same approach we have seen the whole year fromt he Springboks. bash it up hard with the forwards, kick for territory….you know the sequence….everybody does, and yes, most notably all our opponents do….
And in the light of this approach, and the criticism of our Springbok flyhalves (let’s face it, all of them got flack for their performance, save for Goosen) I wondered just how much ball the Springbok flyhalves did have to work with. It is something that bothered me on Saturday as I watched the Springbok test against Scotland. I was excited to watch Lambie play and hopefully settle into the squad, but hardly saw him play.
The statistics confirmed this for me.
I also compared this to the game against Ireland, which shows the same trend.
I did the same for New Zealand against Scotland (it is after all the same opposition) and it shows something very different.
I then did the same for when the Springboks played and won against Australia at Loftus, and again, the statistics seem to indicate a totally different approach than what we saw against Ireland and Scotland.
One last time, I did the same analysis for when we lost against New Zealand in Dunedin, but missed so many opportunities, and it becomes quite apparent why it seems that our backline is impotent…
Yes, you guessed it. The ball is hogged by the forwards. This is Heyneke’s master plan, the plan that supposedly is played all accross the world, including New Zealand….well, no, its not. Even Australia who also is struggling with a lack of experience, is not playing a game where the forwards use the majority of the ball…
Firstly, if we look at Scotland and Ireland, the number of times the ball was handled by the scrumhalf as a percentage of available ball (ie, the ball was handled by the scrumhalf and not by a forward) is on par with what New Zealand did against Scotland, although against Scotland, Ruan handled only 73% vs New Zealand’s 79%.
One can see that Australia had a bit more difficulty in getting the ball to the scrummy when they played against England, but with almost double the posession South Africa had against both Ireland and Scotland, it seems acceptable.
The thing that almost nauseated me though was the amount of ball the flyhalf received. In both the Ireland and Scotland games, Patrick Lambie received only 42% and 35% respectively of the available ball. Compare this to the 76% received by Dan Carter and the 69% received by Kurtley Beale and the picture becomes quite clear as to why our backline seems impotent…they don’t get ANY ball.
It’s not kicking possession away which is the problem. Although it seems high when we look at percentages, the major problem is the lack of ball received, and the ball is merely passed to the flyhalf when the decision is to kick the ball.
How many times could the ball have gone down the backline instead of to a forward? If the stats are anything to go by, the Springboks expect their forwards to be the playmakers, not the flyhalves.
Even in Dunedin, the ball went to Morne Steyn only 42% of the time. In fact, he handled the ball 23 times, which is almost 23% of the available possession from fixed and broken play, and he is expected to be the play maker?
Goosen at Loftus got the ball the most of all the SA Flyhalves, and what happened in that game? We scored 4 tries and won handsomely! And his kicking ratio may only be 20%, but he kicked the ball 5 times vs Morne and Lambie’s average of 7 times. Hardly a difference that indicates a change in game plan.
No, the amount of ball the flyhalf gets shows you the intent of the game plan, and in all the South African games, the flyhalf gets the ball from the scrumhalf less than 50% of the time, while Australia and New Zealand does it at around the 70% mark. A vast difference!
No. The problem is not the kicking game of the flyhalves, as much as it is the hogging of the ball game of the forwards. Too many forwards hang around in the backline waiting for the ball. If this is not the game plan, what are they doing there, instead of protecting the ball at the rucks?
Springbok supporters have been bitterly disappointed this year. Yes, maybe the expectations were too high, but there is enough good reason to be disappointed even if those expectations were toned down to realistic levels.
And Heyneke is once again setting himself up for harsh criticism come this weekend. Saying that this weekend will be the defining match of the season, he, and only him can be held responsible for how this season will be viewed.
We drew the test against England in Port Elizabeth against an injury depleted England side. The one we face this weekend will be fresh and up to the task, while the Springboks are the injury depleted side. A loss is most certainly on the cards, and a loss will define this year’s season as a failure.
Heyneke only needs to do one thing to give us supporters a ray of hope going into next year. Let the flyhalf be the general. Let him dictate the game according to his abilities. The abilities he demonstrated, for which he’s been selected. Do that, and the Springboks will be a better side all together; the forwards can do their jobs, the backline can do theirs, and the supporters can watch and enjoy the Springboks play.