CAPE TOWN – The scrumhalf position is a well-documented problem for the Springboks. But have the Bok coaching staff done enough to try and solve that problem?
If you watched the game against Wales on Saturday night, I bet you couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied with at least one aspect at the RFK Stadium.
It might have been the not-even-half-full stands for a Test that was supposed to be a money-spinner and act as a positive advertisement for the game of rugby to Americans. It might have been our national anthem that seemed, or sounded, rushed. It could have been the lost visuals or the fact the camera crew’s work made it seem like the uncapped Springbok players weren’t the only ones new to the job.
Maybe it was the general lacklustre performance by the Boks, maybe it was the 22-20 loss itself, the charged-down kicks, or the never-ending and senseless box kicks.
For me that was one of the biggest headaches in a frustrating game - those box kicks.
No 9 Ivan van Zyl booted away far too much possession, and while that may have been under instruction, it doesn’t make it any better.
The only thing that made the never-ending kicking worse was the poor execution.
There was no regard for space, the chase was terrible when not non-existent and, ultimately, too much of the decision-making was left to Van Zyl.
It wasn’t only Van Zyl’s kicking that was terrible. The Springboks’ tactical display with the boot, in general, left much to be desired.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies’ contribution off the foot also failed to impress at times, and I doubt more needs to be said about Robert du Preez’s blunders.
Again, Van Zyl’s contribution might have been scripted by SA Director of Rugby and Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, and if so, that’s a big part of the problem.
The post-Fourie du Preez era has seen the Bok No 9 jersey undergo a series of examinations which, although it’s sometimes looked promising, is yet to pass with flying colours.
Perhaps one of the things which have indirectly contributed to the seemingly unsolvable puzzle has been South Africa’s desire to find another Fourie Du Preez or the “hang time” of his box kicks.
Maybe there hasn’t been enough devotion to growing a scrumhalf with his own abilities and skills. Maybe too many Fourie boxes on the Bok scrumhalf questionnaire have played its part. Maybe we don’t want to deviate from the Bok norm, from the “safe”, too much.
Maybe that’s played a part, or maybe not, but this scripted and tired “kick from here” gameplan certainly has.
And what kind of impact will that have on a guy like Van Zyl, or Faf de Klerk, or Embrose Papier?
It’s still early days for Rassie; that I get. I also realise it could be an entirely different team running out at Ellis Park against England on Saturday.
But if what Van Zyl did - or was expected to do - in Washington isn’t going to change drastically, then no number of team changes or rotations at No 9 are going to change what we saw.
It will continue to be a problem, and the Bok scrumhalf position will continue to be a turnstile that can never really make the most of its products passing through.