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Back to the drawing board?

Boks v Australia 18 September 2021 - post mortem:



Well well well - post Covid and a well deserved victory over the British & Irish Lions , 2 victories over Los Pumas and now 2 defeats out of 4 games down under in the Rugby Championship.


Any rugby fan would be disappointed and wondering what went wrong after two losses against the Wallabies after we had such a good start post Covid.


The websites and FB sites are rife with theories ,banter and plain mischievous comments but lets look at a few possibilities as to why we have slumped - two defeats would not have been the end of the world but our next two games are against New Zealand and on their current form they are demolishing any opponent that crosses their path.

Currently we are looking at 4 losses in a row which shall never be good enough for a team that are the current World Champions and a proud Nation that has a rich and powerful history in Union- coupled with our love for the game!! Lets make no excuses - both Tests the Wallabies deserved their victories and we did not look like the team we know we are.


The team:

The Boks had started building a group of players who were at their peak at the World Cup and we could field two monster packs and some additional back line players who could slot into place. when needed


The forwards starting with Matt Proudfoot (since then he has left for the England job) hadbeen constantly rotated and there was a system in place where the 50 minute and 30 minute players knew exactly who they were. The system was in place and working like a well oiled machine - however we have suddenly started rotating forwards since we started the Pumas Tests - Mostert as flank and changing the front row almost on a weekly basis.


The back line was managed with the theory : keep it if it works - only add when necessary and this of course lead to no back-up kicker in the two Aussie Tests coupled with Kolbe ‘s injury - not that Sbu Nkosi isn't a more than competent replacement - but game time vs form is an issue especially important when you face stronger teams.


Changing too much , playing players out of position , systems not being adapted and golden lessons not taken into account definitely had an effect on the team as a collective.


The Coach:

Rassie Erasmus took the Boks from a downward spiral to winning the RWC in 2019 - I can vaguely remember he said in the 18 months before the WC that if he loses more than 3 in a row he would consider leaving ( anyone more than welcome to correct me) - that is how high the standard was set for the coaching staff.

Now pre- RWC is all history and Jacques Nienaber was appointed head coach, previously also part of the system as defence coach.


Let’s be honest - how many coaches would feel comfortable starting their career as the Head coach of the world famous Boks and having a schedule which included a BIL tour and straight into a Rugby Championship - throw in Covid isolation and all would most probably decline the job no matter the reward - but we as Saffas do not walk away from challenges as individuals nor as a country.


Unfortunately the real challenge is not reaching the top but staying on top!!


New Zealand - dominating the rugby scene the last decade - have always had continuity in their coaching set-up , in terms of how and their approach to coaching can only be experienced by actually being part of their system - main take away CONTINUITY!


No use in igniting the fires to crucify Jacques - there is a team in place , a system and ultimately he needs to have an opportunity to rectify all in a fair time - in SA we recycle more Bok coaches than we do items that would save Mother Earth.


The game plan

MMMM ….what a very hot topic … the whole world with Clive Woodward too vocal about the boring Boks, the way rugby Union goes blah blah blah.

(quite ironic 50 kicks before half time in the first English Premiership game of the season between Saracens and Bristol - but lets leave it at that!)


The success of any professional sports team rests solely on two blocks :

Fitness and playing to your strengths - simple.

The forward dominated box-kick game plan has reaped its rewards and like anything in life it has its expiry date.

This game plan suits our strengths to a tee but like any plan being implemented one too many times would be nullified by the opposition or if it fails - plan B?


The true master of his profession is adaptable - especially when facing different opposition. Many punt-its would argue we are we and we do not have the players with the skills to (a) adapt and more importantly (b) play the running game. This is where I disagree - the only way you know if you can achieve something is by actually doing it. Currently we look poor in this department but a gradual shift can just be advantageous to our cause.


Game plans can be discussed in depth for hours and hours - bottom line - not one but a combination of plans is the solution and changes gradually implemented over a period.


Fitness - physical / mentally:

The pandemic had put a pause on many players lives - a rest can be good in the sense that the player’s body gets a rest , but on the other hand no contact and team cohesion are adversely affected.


Fitness per player also differs in the sense that the more disciplined professional would constantly try to better their fitness where some (the props?) might consider more YouTube videos on ball handling skills than doing physical exercise.


The Boks looked flat- footed especially in the second Test v Aus (18 Sept) and their body language was far from the team that won the World Cup.


We have a mix of local and international players - which for the most part, helps us very much - but how much strain does a player take when he plays week in and week out in the NH club championship and then plays week in and week out for his Nation?


We have a 12 month rugby calendar and player rotation and group management is different in the club vs National set-up. The whole debate of club vs country has been raging in soccer for ages and now rugby is following the same path.


Mentally - as a fan - is an individual trait within a team environment - do we have a “kop dokter” , is there factions forming within the set-up , some happy some not ? This can only be analyzed within the inner circle.


The Opposition:


Watching 1000’s of post match interviews any fan by now would know the stock standard Captain’s answers: we can only control what is in our remit, we shall look at the game and make adjustments , etc. etc.

In a nutshell - we beat the BIL fair and square ( middle Test 27-9 was the most dominant display) , we had Argentina’s number and then the two other SH giants were next - we failed dismally - two straight losses against Australia, whether by one point or 30 - a loss is a loss.


How did we approach the Aussies - with the necessary respect , did we do our home work , did they feel so dejected after the New Zealand hidings that they were just so much more improved, were we our own enemies?



Again a bit of both - on our side goal kicking , missed tackles , fumbling balls etc. but what did they do to be victorious - did they figure out our game plan , their hunger surpass our appetite?


It is a relatively young Aussie team and with Rennie at the helm would 2023 be a force unlike the 2019 fiasco where England pummeled them.


Conclusion:

Never panic and never throw the baby with the water altogether out of the bath - this is painful but not the end of the world - we have been here before and we have also being on the other side of the fence.


My prediction on current form is that we would be lucky to win a Test against New Zealand the next two weeks.


My wish as all fans - to win every game but we all know it does not work like that.


We as amateur critics can only speculate but definitely back our boytjies because class is permanent - maybe I have touched on some of the issues or maybe only one needs to be adjusted but lets not forget there is lots of rugby still ahead and

“een swaeltjie maak nie n somer nie”.


Go Bokke!!


The Rugby fan

Author W.Pienaar

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