For all the 107 years that Springbok rugby has been in existence, it has been considered sacrilege to mention running rugby in the same breath as the Springboks.
As much as South African rugby stands on a solid foundation based on the skop, skiet and donner approach that is very much part of its culture as the oval ball is to the game, the time has come for the Springboks to evolve if they are to remain relevant in world rugby.
Even more surprising than seeing the Springboks run in 25 tries in their last four Tests, is that the man who engineered this new brand of rugby for the team is none other than coach Heyneke Meyer.
Meyer’s rise to prominence was built on taking average teams and making them world beaters guided by the very principles of that 10-men rugby that has been at the heart of Springbok rugby.
But Meyer has not been shy in allowing his teams to play with the freedom of their talents as was evident when he led the Bulls to their first Super Rugby title in 2007. It saw the Bulls finish with the most tries that season.
It might sound contradictory in the beginning that Meyer, who bases much of his team’s game on defence, would be the architect of attack.
But the Springboks’ defence coach John McFarland elaborated more on how Meyer’s cunning scheme of using defence as a lethal weapon on attack is working for this team and should make them title contenders in the Rugby Championship.
And Meyer’s plan sounds simple enough and certainly looked simple when the Springboks dismantled Argentina 73-13 at FNB Stadium last Saturday and scored nine tries in total, some of which came from offensive tackles coupled with an immediate dominance of the breakdown to force the turnover.
Already the Springboks have eclipsed their try-scoring record of last year where they managed to cross the whitewash 22 times in the 12 Tests played and this is proof for McFarland that their cunning plan is working.
“Steadily, we have been improving over the season. I think our physicality has been really good.
“Our breakdown in terms of turning ball over and our ability to use defence as a weapon and score points from it has really improved over the season.
“You want to use your defence as a weapon.
“You don’t want to defend phase, after phase, after phase because eventually that will tire you out. When Argentina put up phases like they did in the build-up to our second try scored by JJ (Engelbrecht) from a Willie le Roux chip, they went through 10 to 12 phases and they ran out of numbers.
“They were very disorganised when we got the ball back and our reaction then was fantastic.
“What has been the real improvement in the team is that we have become very good at scoring from turnovers,” McFarland said yesterday.
What is becoming abundantly clear is that McFarland has simplified the art of defence.
This has provided the team with a defensive pattern whose origins still feed off the brute strength of Springbok rugby, but has evolved it into incorporating the wisdom of turning defence into attack.
“We scored four drive tries from the line-outs against Argentina. If you look over the year, we have scored a lot of tries but what has really improved has been our counter-attacking.
“Our ability to get guys back after a kick and get into a positive attacking shape and a mindset to have a go has been really good,” he said.
“I think it is the evolution of the team, a workrate because everybody has a buy-in into that from one to 15 and we are able to use the ball when it does come.”
That was McFarland’s simple but effective explanation to how the Springboks will play and strive to win against Argentina on Saturday in Mendoza, and ultimately the Rugby Championship.
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Mendoza: Argentina v South Africa (9.10pm) - The Star