The Sharks aside, we are still seeing too much obsession with the power game that won the Springboks the Webb Ellis Cup last year and not enough evolution towards playing with panache and skill. Photo: Darren England/EPA
The Sharks aside, we are still seeing too much obsession with the power game that won the Springboks the Webb Ellis Cup last year and not enough evolution towards playing with panache and skill. Photo: Darren England/EPA

OPINION: South African Super Rugby teams need to play with panache, skill

By Mike Greenaway Time of article published Mar 3, 2020

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It has taken five rounds of Super Rugby for it to become apparent that South Africa’s teams in general are suffering from a World Cup hangover as to how the game should be played.

The Sharks aside, we are still seeing too much obsession with the power game that won the Springboks the Webb Ellis Cup last year and not enough evolution towards playing with panache and skill.

The Stormers, perhaps understandably because they have the bulk of the Bok pack that was successful in Japan, are overly reliant on forward domination when they have such talented backs.

And when their forwards were nullified for the first time this season, by the Blues on Saturday, they looked all at sea.

The thing with World Cups is that you can win them by playing low-risk “tournament rugby”, as the Boks did. Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus cut his suit according to his cloth but that doesn’t mean he and new Bok coach Jacques Nienaber want SA teams to play like that forever and a day.

Because if they do, no new value is being added to the national team’s repertoire.

The Sharks are the one team that will have Erasmus and Nienaber nodding in satisfaction because they have developed their attack - they play with a very clear intention of using a highly-physical defence to force turnovers from which they counter-attack with verve, skill and deadly affect - and suddenly the world is talking about the likes of Aphelele Fassi, Madosh Tambwe, Sanele Nohamba; and enthusing ever more about Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi.

Now contrast the Bulls with the Sharks.

They are a desperate disappointment with their unimaginative approach and fully deserve to be winless, and this status quo doesn’t look like it is going to change any time soon.

Not when they lurch back into the Dark Ages playing a game based on the prehistoric boot of 35-year-old Morne Steyn.

Watching them blunder about against the Jaguares in Pretoria last week, it was difficult to believe that it was only two years ago that (former All Black coach) John Mitchell had them playing a refreshing, off-loading game that lit up Loftus.

Steyn should be mentoring 22-year-old Manie Libbok, who can play with flair, but instead Steyn has become the focal point of the Bulls’ game as coach Pote Human feels the heat and takes the conservative route.

The Lions have also disappointed with an approach that is a departure from the DNA that made them three-time finalists between 2016 and 2018.

There have been times in their games on the Highveld where they showed glimpses of their old devil-may-care approach, and they need to identify that, and cultivate it.

What we have seen overall from SA teams is that they are heavily set-piece focussed after it won the Boks the World Cup.

There is nothing wrong with that - it remains the skeleton of the 15-man game - provided you are also prepared to add the flesh of creative, attacking rugby.

Mike Greenaway

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