CAPE TOWN – The aerial contests are a “massive, massive part” of the Springboks’ game, and they hope they will get more reward from the match officials in Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash against the Wallabies.
That was the view of assistant coach Mzwandile Stick, who has worked hard over the last few years on the players’ ability to get up into the air and either claim the opposition’s up-and-unders, and more importantly, winning back their own box-kicks.
While the tactic may not be popular with Bok supporters and critics alike, it is something that the South Africans thrive on in an attempt to spark an attack inside the opponents’ half.
But the Boks were thwarted by the Wallabies in last Sunday’s 28-26 defeat on the Gold Coast, with the Aussies employing blockers to delay the likes of Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi from being able to win the ball in the air.
Both wings expressed their frustration with the match officials on the day, but they got little joy out of referee Luke Pearce and his assistants.
Stick confirmed on Friday that the Bok management spoke to the referee and World Rugby about the issue, and will continue to use the ploy in Saturday’s match at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane (9.05am SA time kickoff).
“With regards to the aerial skills and not getting up there in the contest, it’s something that yes, we’ve raised with the match officials and all that stuff. That is something that we always do, week-in week-out. On the day, maybe the AR (assistant referee) didn’t see it – I don’t know, I’m not sure,” Stick said on Friday.
“But one thing I know for sure is that we did address it to them and I think at the moment, we are in a good space when it comes to the match officials.
“We normally communicate with them week-in week-out, and that is something that we in the sport need to develop and keep on improving – the relationship between the team and the match officials. Remember that we are all in the same family… They want to make sure they do their best on the day.
“We did address it with them, and some of our players weren’t happy with it. But hopefully things will get better this week, and we know aerial contests is a massive, massive part of our game. So, we will keep on fighting and we will keep on trying to get up in that contest.”
The Boks seldom bring the likes of Mapimpi, Nkosi and the currently-injured Cheslin Kolbe into the game with ball-in-hand, but Stick insisted that the playmakers on the pitch are allowed to make their own decisions in reading the situation in front of them on attack.
“Creating the space on the outside is always part of our plan, and the players on the field – the guys that are the game-drivers – they know they’ve got the freedom, if the space is out there, for them to take it. They’ve always got the freedom to do so,” the former Blitzboks captain said.
“They are making the decisions, and we train that a lot. I wouldn’t say that we don’t look for opportunities. If you look at the try record currently with our wings, Makazole Mapimpi has 16 tries out of 19 games, and we’ve got a guy like Cheslin Kolbe, who normally scores week-in week-out.
“When it comes to us creating space for them, it is something that is part of our game, but the players have the freedom. They must make the decisions – when it’s on, they must take it. But we are not going to try to force things and play this champagne rugby, where everybody is talking about it.
“It’s not in us, so the most important thing for us is that we are playing the pressure game. We apply the pressure through the boot, or apply the pressure through the set-pieces or apply the pressure through the hands, then we’ll do that. We will decide that on the day.
“But our players do have the freedom, whatever decision they want to make on the field. If it’s on, they’ll take it.”