As bad as the Springboks may have been last season, with only four Tests won out of the 12 they played, assistant coach Johann van Graan believes they can still rely on the rolling maul along with their set-piece play as the cornerstones to their ambitions of winning the series against the French.
“Firstly the past is in the past. What we do in the present will determine our future. The brilliant thing about the forwards is that all of the guys who have been at the camp have been at the Springboks before whether at Test match level or the different camps,” Van Graan says.
“So that continuity helps a bit and we’ve changed one or two things, done a lot of research and future planning looking ahead to the next three years up to the World Cup, but the most important thing is Saturday. I’m very pleased with players individually in Super Rugby, and some teams as a collective have played some fantastic rugby. After Tuesday's session – a nice unit session – I’m happy with where we are with the scrum, lineout and maul time but Saturday is where it counts.”
However, the porous performances by the Springboks would have certainly clouded any of the good work they were able to produce last year, and it is those rare but visible areas like the rolling maul that Van Graan wants the Springboks to master ahead of the opening Test.
The Springboks, along with local Super Rugby franchises, have in the past mastered the art of mauling and it was a strength of many successful teams in their years of world dominance.
As the Springboks limped from Test to Test last year they seemingly lost their way and their strengths, which led to the ineffectiveness of the driving maul when they tried to employ it.
The maul remains very much part of the Springboks’ arsenal, according to Van Graan, and they will rely on it to gain ascendency over the French.
“The driving maul is a massive part of South African rugby and world rugby. If you just look at what happened in Super Rugby, all the teams use the drive at this stage. Last year we were the team that drove the third most, with England having driven the most lineouts. It is a massive part of the game and we have to adapt to referees, and we have three southern hemisphere referees with this incoming tour.
We also know the French stop a maul pretty well and they also maul well. I guess we know what is coming, and we play against quality opposition and look forward to that battle.”
Maybe the Springbok is not all “dead and buried” and there is still plenty of life in it, but the team of 2017 will have to learn from the near-fatal body blows they suffered, and also from the knowledge that comes from French-based players like Frans Steyn and Steven Kitschoff in order to breathe back new life into their ailing team.
As unpredictable as the French are, the Springboks will need to to resuscitate their strengths, and it will start up front with the scrums, lineouts and driving mauls.
“I think perception is what it is. If you look back at 2016 and you combine your scrum and lineout percentage, South Africa and France were number one in the world with 95 percent,” Van Graan said.
“They’ve got a very good scrum and a brilliant lineout and some very good movement. We are very lucky to have a lot of players playing in France and we’ll use that knowledge to our advantage. But we are going to focus on ourselves and it is the start of a new journey.
"We don’t have a lot of information on them bar the Six Nations. They will definitely come with one or two new things, but we’ve done our homework, identified our strengths and we are going to play to them.”