CAPE TOWN - What is up with all this aimless kicking by the Springboks? I mean, if there’s one thing worse than watching them struggle week in and week out, it’s watching them continuously do one of the things that contributes to those struggles big time - and that’s kicking possession away ... aimlessly
In their 18-17 win over France, the Boks were again guilty of booting the ball away way too many times, and the way in which they willingly handed the Gilbert to the French was even more atrocious than the overused concept itself.
Handre Pollard was especially guilty of this - he kicked the ball straight into French hands more times than what I care to count, and what made it even worse was the fact that he blindly put beautiful turnover ball to boot. The French, of course, gratefully welcomed the ball every time. Almost like they had been expecting it, because they probably did. If the opposition do the same thing over and over again, how can you not spot the pattern?
Anyway, the bigger problem is that Pollard isn’t the only one who’s been guilty of this. The problem is that Saturday was no isolated case. In recent weeks, we’ve seen too many Boks not even bother to assess the playing situation and other on-field options, and instead just kick the ball away without even turning their locked heads left or right.
Ross Cronje has also become a pain with his predictable and often poorly-executed box kicks, and although he showed some improvement with this technique in Paris, that’s not the point. Remember Damian de Allende’s kick-ahead against Ireland with a clear overlap on his outside? That was bad. And so was seeing even Elton Jantjies kick the ball away with no clear follow-up plan in sight once or twice. He seldom does it at the Lions.
Kicking, if used properly, can of course be a wonderful asset in the game of rugby. And I’m not talking about clearing your lines with telling punts. I’m talking about up and unders into space that are chased can lead to superb attacking opportunities, the same way cross-kicks and grubbers can exploit defensive patches and set up some exciting situations.
But why can’t the Boks seem to get it right? Why can’t they seem to strategically decide when to kick and when to do anything else - when to hold onto the ball, draw in a defender and free up a teammate, when to exploit that painfully obvious overlap, when to go for that half gap, or when to sort out their attacking line with a phase or two. There seems to be nothing there.
We can of course go back to the decision-making point and the apparent fact that the Boks lack this gem of a component.
Visualising a possible follow-up strategy, making use of your peripheral vision and spatial awareness is as important as the execution of the kick, but until now it’s seemed like the men in green gold skip all other steps and go straight into extending their favoured kicking leg to get the kick away. And that will never work, as we’ve seen more than enough times already.
There is no assessment of options, there is no time taken to check if their teammates are in a better position or if any other possible option exists. It’s come down to skop en hoop - the Boks just kick it away and hope for the best. And that’s ridiculous.
Whether the players are just following coaches’ order and implementing the “game plan”, or whether the players, for whatever bizarre reason, decide for themselves that they don’t know what to do with the ball in their hands and they’d rather get rid of it I do not know.
But one thing’s for sure - not all teams are going to fail to capitalise on the Boks’ bad habits like the French did. I hope they realise it before a team punishes them for it. And if nothing improves, that team might just be Italy.