BLOEMFONTEIN – Fix the scrums and the lineouts, and only then think about playing some rugby!
That will surely be the message by Springbok coach Allister Coetzee to his players ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test here against the Wallabies.
It’s all well and good to talk about hanging on to the ball and playing some rugby, as Boks attack coach Franco Smith did this week.
But he’s also very aware that to do so, you first have to look after your first-phase plays... and that’s something the Boks failed to do in their last outing against New Zealand in Albany.
A look at some of the statistics from that game – lost 57-0 by the Boks – reveals just why Coetzee’s team struggled so much: they simply never had the foundations to play any rugby.
After a fairly promising start when they spent a good deal of time in All Blacks territory, they all of a sudden were put under pressure in the set-pieces by the best team on the planet, and the Boks’ world crumbled.
After 80 minutes, the Boks had let in eight tries and failed to trouble the scorers themselves, players’ reputations were left in tatters and the so-called “greatest rivalry in rugby” was questioned.
The Boks had lost key areas of the contest like metres gained (564m by the All Blacks to the Boks’ 252m), number of defenders beaten (32 to the Boks’ 19) and number of passes made (196 to the Boks’ 112).
The Boks spent the last 60 minutes of the match in Albany on the back foot, scrambling for ball and trying to stop the All Blacks’ power runners out wide.
They missed 32 tackles... and were found wanting, but as Coetzee and Smith have said, any team will battle when the set-piece isn’t functioning.
In Albany, the Boks lost five lineout throws (out of 14), and also lost three own scrum feeds out of six.
The week before, against Australia in Perth, the Boks lost only one lineout out of 13 and lost only one scrum out of eight; and they drew the match 23-23.
The Wallabies might not be as skilful or powerful as the All Blacks in the scrums and lineouts, but they will certainly have noticed what happened to the Boks in Albany 12 days ago, and they’re sure to target the set-pieces on Saturday.
It’s key then the Boks get their set-phases functioning optimally if they’re to play the type of attacking game they intend to produce at Test level.
Coetzee is fully aware the team needs to step it up this week. “What happened last week is one of the poorer efforts we’ve produced in the last two years,” admitted the Bok coach.
“I know the players and coach Johann van Graan will have worked hard to correct what went wrong.
“It’s a lot of little detail in the lineouts that if things go wrong under pressure, one error leads to one having to defend for the next 10 to 15 phases. Up to that New Zealand game, we were at 90% success rate in the lineouts.”
So whether Coetzee opts for Pieter-Steph du Toit or Franco Mostert, or even Lood de Jager, when he picks his team on Thursday to join Eben Etzebeth in the lineouts for Saturday’s game, it’s essential whoever does the calling gets it right.
And then hooker Malcolm Marx has also got to hit the target. Simplifying things would be the first step in correcting what went wrong against the All Blacks.
Even scrumhalf Ross Cronjé, who missed the New Zealand shut-out because of injury but is expected back in the No 9 jumper for Saturday’s match, weighed in on getting the set-pieces sorted out.
“It was a bad day at the office. The guys have done a lot of homework to fix what went wrong... but it’s important we get those set-pieces sorted out; something that’s been a strength of ours in previous games.”
Indeed, the Boks have been good in the scrums and lineouts this year.
But if “you’re only as good as your last outing”, then they need to hit the mark again, take charge up front in the set-pieces and show who is boss against the Wallabies.