Allister Coetzee. Photo: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
DURBAN - It chills me to the marrow when I hear Springbok coach Allister Coetzee saying the Springboks will have the “right balance between attack and defence” in the imminent series against France.

What is the “right balance”? Does that mean there is a blackboard in the team room where the coach says: “when you are in this part of the field you kick and do not attack, and when you are in this area of the field you keep the ball and have a full go?”

I just hope the Springboks of 2017 do not have this paint-by-numbers approach and that Coetzee has learned from the trendsetters in world rugby - the Super Rugby teams from New Zealand - who defend when they have to, but attack from anywhere in the field should the situation entice them.

When they have ball in hand, they have no fear. The Kiwi teams do not play according to a pre-determined game plan that says “when you are in this part of the field you do this and when you are in that part of the field you do that”.

The (Ellis Park) Lions are the South African team that most replicates the Kiwi pattern, with the Stormers not far behind when it comes to attack.

The modern game is about fluidity on attack and steadfastness on defence. You tackle for your life when you have to, but a player must have the vigilance to know that when he has the ball, he must offload to a player in space.

The New Zealanders read the situation. They play what is front of them, and if they spot a player or two in space outside of them, they exploit the situation.

South African teams generally like to bash their way into a situation where they have momentum, and then move the ball, but opposition defences are almost always waiting in anticipation.

It does not have to be that way for our players. If you have numbers and space to your advantage, for heavens’ sake, capitalise on it.

It should not matter where you are on the field. You can be behind your posts and if a turnover spits out a ball that gives you not only surprise over the opposition, but numerical advantage, you can attack and score at the other end.

We have seen the Cheetahs do this regularly, as have all the New Zealand teams.

The Cheetahs are the best exponent of this in Super Rugby, sometimes even better than the Aussies and Kiwis, and we should be encouraged that their coach, Franco Smith, is the Bok attack coach - even if his team is terrible on defence.

On that latter count, Coetzee has one of the best rugby brains in the business in defence coach Brendan Venter.

On paper, we have Smith coaching the Boks to be fearless on attack and to play the situation in front of them, while Venter ensures the defence structure is sound.

But in charge of this is Coetzee, a coach found wanting at the Stormers when he was too conservative on attack, resulting in a hugely talented Stormers team under-performing for a number of years.

Coetzee’s (curious) reward was ultimately the position of Springbok coach, and we saw how that worked out last year - four wins out of 12 and a disgraceful first-ever defeat to Italy. If Springbok rugby is to be rejuvenated then Coetzee has to allow Smith to do what he does so well on attack, and Venter to shore up the defences, but most of all, Coetzee has to be brave enough to allow his players to give it horns when the attack is on.

The Springboks will continue to implode if they play Coetzee’s conservative rugby, and if he cannot see the trees for the woods, and the Boks continue to lose by playing nonsensical rugby, then the sooner he goes, the better.

The Mercury

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