Let’s start with something I have not seen a lot of on the web and social media, and that is giving Wales credit for their performance on Sunday. It has arguably been the best game I have seen the Welsh play in 10 years, and I am sure Gatland and his troops must be dumbfounded as to how they lost a game in which they controlled 60% of possession and territory.
It also says something about this Bok team… Not many teams in world rugby would have walked away with a win in the same situation, they did, and it’s the Boks who has a tick under the ‘W’ column in Pool D, not Wales.
Of course we cannot be oblivious to lessons we must learn from this match if we have any hope of winning the World Cup, but there is also no reason to start pushing the panic buttons and make major changes.
If we are to state the obvious, most of us would agree this was hardly one of the better performances we saw from the Springboks. Apart from the opening 10 minutes, uncharacteristic errors and poor decision making characterized this Bok performance. It’s worrying especially given the experience of this team and it is something the senior Boks and coaches will need to address as a matter of urgency.
Apart from Schalk Burger, Heinrich Brüssow and Jaque Fourie, the senior Boks in this team produced a game that could be best described as a shocker. One or two errors can be forgiven, but some of the decision making and lack of commitment from these players are simply not acceptable – and it is in the commitment department where we should be most concerned.
If these guys are serious in their commitment they made to each other to achieve something no other team has achieved before in defending the Rugby World Cup, they had better catch a wake up. 50/50 passes, putting the guy next to you under pressure through poor decision making, no urgency on defence are just a couple of things you wouldn’t expect from test veterans (and Rugby World Cup winners).
If they want an example of what I am talking about, they can easily look at the hunger, urgency and commitment players like Francois Hougaard, Bismarck du Plessis and Willem Alberts showed when they took the field from the bench compared to their own. That is the commitment need to win the Rugby World Cup, not the rubbish we saw from our veterans.
This also brings me to the hottest topic of the day – what to do with Bismarck…???
Calls for the dynamic hooker to start in place of a ageing and seemingly ‘tired’ Springbok captain John Smit has generated more column inches in Monday morning papers and online views than Julius Malema managed in the last year!
The arguments for the inclusion of Bismarck are sound, more than that, they are backed up by the performances this guy puts in on the park.
It is difficult if not impossible to counter these arguments, because if you measure the one against the other, there is simply no contest.
Following the match on Sunday and some debate with friends, we did come across an important point however.
John hardly had a bad game on Sunday, and even though it might not have been a 7 out of 10 performance, the captain worked extremely hard on the field, putting in some good tackles and carrying the ball strongly on a few occasions. He was solid, without being spectacular, and what Bismarck brings (and brought) was ‘spectacular’.
Given that any match-day 22 will always include 2 hookers, the only question should be how the Springbok manage this situation?
Do we start with John, solid, leader, but unspectacular? Or do we start with Mr. Spectacular and have John covering from the bench?
In our debate yesterday, this is more or less where we ended up, and to answer that question, you have to ask what you want from your bench? Modern rugby is after-all, a 22-man game today where the selection and use of your bench is as important as the selection of your run-on XV.
Do you want solid, dependable coming off the bench in the last 20 or 30 minutes against tired opposition legs (especially in the tight 5), or do you want explosive, spectacular, impact coming onto the park?
In Smit and Bismarck you have those options, and it is an option not many teams (even the top ones) have in their arsenal. The fact that we have both is a massive positive for the team, one which gives us options, options when managed effectively to get the best out of both would give us the edge.
Yesterday we did reach a conclusion (albeit after a couple of beers), one I am happy to share with you, but I am more interested in what you think first.