CAPE TOWN – The Springboks have never been shy of telling the world what their game plan will be.
The mantra has been that the opposition may know what’s coming, but they will still have to stop it.
Well, the Wallabies have stopped them for two weeks in a row now, so what else have you got, Springboks?
The last time that the Boks faced one of the southern-hemisphere giants was the All Blacks at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The South Africans went down 23-13 on that September night in Yokohama, and the Boks largely put it down to a few defensive errors that led to a two-try blitz from the Kiwis in the first half.
Cue last week Sunday, when they took on the Wallabies on the Gold Coast. Another defeat, with a number of reasons such as ill-discipline from the Boks, poor goal-kicking, some questionable refereeing decisions at the scrums and missing off-the-ball tackles…
But at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday night, coach Jacques Nienaber had no excuses, while he also highlighted his team’s defence problems.
Clearly the Boks’ ‘skop, skiet en donner’ plan works against northern-hemisphere teams, who are unable to match the physicality and are not creative enough on attack to outwit the South Africans. We saw that against Wales and England in the World Cup, and in the British and Irish Lions series.
But it’s not good enough to beat Australia, and it will certainly not be enough to knock over the All Blacks in their 100th Test next Saturday. “You get tested differently, and for us, it’s a big eye-opener in terms of that,” Nienaber said.
The coach mentioned that they will review all systems on defence, attack and their kicking game, but the chickens have come home to roost for this Bok group. You can’t stick to what has worked in the past when it doesn’t work any longer, and a total change in thinking is required if they are to become competitive against the Wallabies and All Blacks again.
That’s unlikely to happen over the next two weeks, though, as both Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi said afterwards that it was more the individual errors than the game plan that was the problem at Suncorp Stadium.
But the issue is not having a Plan B when Plan A is not achieving results. There was some indication that the Boks were trying to add more width to their game against the Wallabies, with Handre Pollard and Willie le Roux looking for runners on the outside, and when the ball did go to hand, the visitors made some good metres.
But more often that not, a ball was knocked-on, or someone like Makazole Mapimpi was given the ball right up against the touchline or with two defenders hounding him. Sbu Nkosi hardly touched the ball on attack, and had to be reduced to chasing box-kicks.
The current overall mindset encourages Faf de Klerk to kick another box-kick just after the Boks won the ball back from a previous kick, or even if they are already in the opposition’s half. That needs to change if they are going to be a real threat on attack.
The other major talking point is selection. Franco Mostert is a tireless operator, but is not a blindside flank. Surely a specialist No 7 should be picked, such as Jean-Luc du Preez or Rynhardt Elstadt? Does the ‘Bomb Squad’ concept work if you don’t have RG Snyman and Mostert coming on from the bench? What’s the best front-row combination?
Should there be consequences for De Klerk’s yellow card, where he slapped the ball out of Nic White’s hands? What about an extra back on the bench?
And, dare I say it, what effect has Rassie Erasmus’ absence in Australia had on the Boks?
So many questions, so let’s see if the Boks can come up with the answers next week…