JOHANNESBURG - Former All Black coach John Mitchell is adamant: the Springboks have to change their defensive plans, and look to run more than they kick.
The now Bulls coach, who is widely regarded as one of the most astute and forward-thinking men in the game, was talking in the wake of the Springboks’ 57-0 thrashing by the All Blacks in a Rugby Championship match in Albany on Saturday.
It was a record defeat by the South African national rugby team. There are now fresh questions around the coaching team, headed by Allister Coetzee, while several players are also in the firing line after such a poor showing.
The defeat was the first by the Boks in 2017 after they’d earlier beaten France, three times, Argentina, twice, and drawn with Australia. The signs were good after the 2016 horror show, which saw the Boks win only four times in 12 outings, but this defeat virtually erases all those “positives”. The All Blacks are the No 1 team in the world and the standard by which everyone should measure themselves ... and the Boks came up horribly short.
“They’re too prescriptive on their exits,” said the no-nonsense Mitchell. “Kicking like they did might get one into a semi-final, but it won’t win you a championship. You can’t premeditate your exit and fall into the trap of giving the opposition the ball back. On Saturday it was one pass or an immediate kick.
“When you’re 31-0 down (the score at half-time in Albany) you’ve got to chance your arm,” said Mitchell. “But the Boks came out and started kicking again. You got to play some rugby (in that situation), and build pressure from anywhere on the field.”
Several players were badly exposed by the ruthless All Blacks, among them the back-three of Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan and especially Raymond Rhule, who missed a slew of tackles. Already there are calls for Coetzee to make changes to his back-three and pick players with a greater “presence”. Among the men mentioned include the Lions’ Ruan Combrinck, who is a strong runner, powerful defender and a man that can kick long, with both feet, and the Bulls’ Warrick Gelant.
Mitchell said the Bulls man was ready for Test rugby, but he doubted he would fit in the current Springbok game plan and style.
“Warrick is a very special player. He’s got the gift to create and can turn two-on-two situations into two-on-one situations. He’s also learning all the time to be a better defensive player and has a strong exit kick.
“I’m worried though he might be stifled somewhat in the current Bok exit plan because they don’t like to run the ball,” lamented the former Lions and Western Force coach. “So, the thing is, if you select him and don’t allow him to run the ball then his creativity is worthless.”
The Boks also missed three of their star players from this season on Saturday, namely Coenie Oosthuizen, Jaco Kriel and Ross Cronje. It is hoped they’ll all be back when the Boks are next in action, against Australia in Bloemfontein, next Saturday. The week after that they host the All Blacks in Cape Town.
Coetzee is expected to name his squad for the two home Tests in the coming days.