Springbok boss Allister Coetzee. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
CAPE TOWN - If I could give Springbok coach Allister Coetzee one message, it would be to stop focusing on getting the Boks’ defence right, and rather focus on growing their game.

And that growing involves more than just fixing one dreadful area that plagued the Boks last year.

Firstly, I should say the Boks’ defence was a big talking point last year, and for good reason. Coetzee’s men just couldn’t get their defence right, and I think their first Test against France will be the perfect progress-indicator for the Boks in this area, not only because, well, it’s their first match in six months, but also because it’s Les Bleus'.

And that kind of unpredictability is exactly what Coetzee needs, to see how his team hold up against a team that will undoubtedly test the Boks’ defence.

There have, of course, been quite a few developments since the Boks ended their nightmare outgoing tour, like Brendan Venter joining the coaching staff as specialist defence consultant, but I think it’s important that improving their defence isn’t a standalone priority.

They need to progress their whole game – and their attack is as big a part of that as anything else.

By now I hope Coetzee has figured out how he wants the Boks to play. And I hope what he says and what the Boks do when they get on to the field is the same thing.

Coetzee has spoken quite a bit about playing more expansively, but he’s also made it clear that you “can’t neglect your traditional strengths”, and the dreaded “playing in the right areas of the field” has also been uttered.

Maybe I’m being unfair. After all, the phrases I quoted now were used by Coetzee last season. But, since then, he hasn’t exactly said anything any clearer.

Now I have a problem with statements like those Coetzee has made – for two reasons. One, that kind of talk makes it seem like you can only improve or perfect one area or focus while neglecting another, and two, playing attacking rugby isn’t just a switch you can flip and then just magically “be into it”.

You have to want to do it, you have to want to change, and the mindset needs to be there.

I’m not saying the Boks should become attacking mavericks and move so far away from their past “strengths” that World Rugby has to issue a formal statement to introduce the “new” Bok team. I’m just saying times have changed, the game has changed, and if the Springboks really want to close the proverbial gap with the All Blacks, change is needed. A new mindset in needed.

And whether or not that mindset has since developed or whether or not anything will be different, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The addition of Franco Smith is definitely a promising one, and I can’t wait to see the influence of a mind like that on the Springboks.

But again, it is something all parties involved have to buy into.

Yes, there are other issues as well. Issues like selecting form players. Issues like not selecting players out of position. Issues like allowing players to just play their game. Issues like creating a certain culture and getting the results. And, of course, issues like the Boks’ defence, that really does need fixing.

But all of those issues will only start to diminish once a clear plan has been developed. Once a clear plan has been implemented.

Like I said, the Boks need a plan.

And I hope making attacking play as important as defence is part of that plan.

Cape Times

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