Perth likely to be a battle for runner-up

September 7, 2012
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Under pressure … the respective coaches, Robbie Deans and Heyneke Meyer, enter this encounter with critics banging at the door.

Date
September 7, 2012

Paul Cully

  • Under pressure ... the respective coaches, Robbie Deans and Heyneke Meyer, enter this encounter with critics banging at the door.

Photo: John Selkirk

Those old enough to have grey hairs will have allowed themselves a wry grin at some of the commentary emerging from South Africa this week.

Some malcontents suggested a new playing style was required to match it with the All Blacks, and that a re-evaluation of the traditional Springboks strengths was required. It’s the sort of complaint that surfaces when the South Africans fail to crush an opponent through sheer physicality, as was the case in the draw with Argentina.

It won’t happen. There may be tweaks but South Africa’s gloriously physical style will be the same in a decade as it is now. Their under-20 side, even with the likes of outstanding prospect Jan Serfontein in the midfield, won the Junior World Championship final against New Zealand this year using four familiar bludgeons: the lineout drive, the scrum, heavy collisions and a superior kicking game. The Springboks side that takes to the field in Perth tomorrow night will not be a great one, but at least their foundations will be solid.

The respective coaches, Robbie Deans and Heyneke Meyer, enter this encounter with critics banging at the door. This is as common in coaching as selecting but Deans’s situation is evidently perilous and there is no mystery behind it.

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His side, in one real sense, has been going backwards for months. The Wallabies have spent progressively less time in the opposition 22 in every game this year, starting with the Scotland debacle in June. The figure fell to about 25 per cent in first Test against Wales, had dropped to 13 per cent by the third Test of that series in Sydney and stood a touch above 10 per cent in Auckland two weeks ago.

Accordingly, tinkering with the line-ups over the past three weeks has given the appearance of charging at windmills. New men have come and gone to little effect. At least the forwards can say they were simply outgunned. The lightweights behind them have underperformed.

The prevailing winds have also been against the New Zealander all year. Australian Super Rugby sides won a miserable 24 per cent of their games against South African opposition this year. The Reds, who make up almost half of the 22 to face the Springboks, succeeded in one match from five. The only team to avoid a losing record (the Brumbies, 2-2) were coached by a South African. The school of thought – recently voiced by a former coach from the analog age – that Australia is sitting on a group of players who would conquer the world if they were not being so egregiously mismanaged interprets the situation too simply.

Yet this week’s XV at least gives the appearance of an improvement. Adam Ashley-Cooper at No.13 is a threat to the wonderful but declining Jean de Villiers and powerful but medium-paced Francois Steyn. Dom Shipperley is a desperately needed finisher because despite all his outstanding work, Digby Ioane’s strike rate is nine tries from 27 Tests.

When the Argentinians got in behind the Springboks’ defence two weeks ago, their lack of speed was palpable. Yet adventure – absent from the Wallabies this year – is first required to achieve it. The first four Argentina passes in the move that provided their try were all offloads in contact, from a counter-attacking situation. The blueprint could not be any clearer.

Problematically, South Africa have also emerged stronger from deliberations at the selection table.

The key switch is the removal of Francois Hougaard from the base of the ruck – where his clearances were substandard against Argentina – to the wing, with Ruan Pienaar taking over at No.9.

Pienaar is a confidence player but that commodity is high since playing an instrumental role in leading his Irish province, Ulster, to the Heineken Cup final.

In the pack, Andries Bekker was unrecognisably poor in Argentina, third best in every two-man collision, and makes way for the sterner Juandre Kruger. And Willem Alberts returns to his best position, at blindside, instead of Jacques Potgieter, who was repeatedly cut in half on the gainline by the low-tackling Pumas.

There should be concern about Hougaard’s role on the flank, which will undoubtedly contain a roving component. If the big Springboks ball runners start to rumble through the 10-12 channel, Hougaard’s eye for a gap and acceleration in the following phases will be a huge issue for Australia.

Both these sides are weaker than the outfits that contested the World Cup finals, but the result is no less in the balance.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-union/australia-rugby/perth-likely-to-be-a-battle-for-runnerup-20120906-25h4n.html#ixzz25lVNjUPe

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9 Comments

  1. avatar biltongbek says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Here is my take on our current situation with our forwards and much of the criticism tha has been levelled at Meyer and the Boks (I myself have been criticising some aspects heavily until I did a little bit of research.)

    ……………………………..

    Since the start of Heyneke Meyer’s tenure, the Springboks have been recieving criticism from all corners for their performances. However I think this criticism must be put into context and considered from source.

    Firstly South African supporters expected and still expect Heyneke Meyer to be the saviour of SA rugby, they aren’t a patient bunch and not very forgiving either, so it isn’t only the results that matter (considering that Meyer hasn’t actually lost a test yet) but more importantly the way they perform in the test match arena.

    Outsiders often use cliché’s, the springboks are an aging team, they Neanderthals, Their game plan is outdated, they are predictable etc.

    There is some truth in that, however I have a suspicion that even if we change our style and completely revamp our game plan (which is never going to happen) it still would not breakdown the perceptions and opinions of outsiders. These are the realities.

    Why do I say that?

    Well in the June test series of all the nations involved South Africa had the least pick and drives, they had the most runs from kick returns and gained more than twice the meters from deep of any team.

    When you consider the fact that a team’s efficiency begin at the pack and dominance upfront is key to the winning of any match, the Backs really only decide the margin.

    When South Africa played their last test in 2011, their pack had a combined total of caps of:
    Gurthro Steenkamp: 38
    John Smit: 111
    Jannie du Plessis: 30
    Danie Russouw: 63
    Victor Matfield: 110
    Heinrich Brussow: 20
    Schalk Burger: 68
    Pierre Spies: 47
    Total caps: 487

    Of all those players only Jannie du Plessis remains, now with 35 caps the most experienced player in the forward pack.

    When you look at the pack selections for the upcoming match against Australia:
    Beast Mtawarira: 38 caps
    Adriaan Strauss: 14 caps
    Jannie du Plessis: 35 caps
    Eben Etzebeth: 5 caps
    Juandre Kruger: 3 caps
    Marcell Coetzee: 5 caps
    Willem Alberts: 14 caps
    Duane Vermeulen: 0 caps.
    Total caps: 114 caps.

    Then considering all the combinations Meyer has tested over the past 5 matches it is clear that the Springbok pack is busy with an overhaul.
    Beast Mtawarira, Pat Cilliers, Bismarck du Plessis, Tiaan Liebenberg, Adriaan Strauss, Jannie du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen and Werner Kruger have all been called into the front row.

    At lock, Juandre Kruger, Flip v d Merwe, Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker have been utilized.

    The backrow being decimated with injuries have utilized, Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee, Jaques Potgieter, Willem Alberts, Keegan Daniel, Pierre Spies, and now Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen have been added to the squad for this weekend.

    That makes the total players used by Meyer during his first five tests 20, a clear indication that the pack is far from settled and struggling to gel.

    The truth is a forward pack with a smidgeon of the experience of previous Springbok packs will take time to settle, find their roles and gain enough experience to truly become a great pack. The other reality is players such as Bismarck du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pierre Spies and Heinrich Brussow (he is returning to Currie Cup this weekend) will significantly improve the springbok pack on their return, there are also some players such as Jean Deysel, Anton Bresler (who had a great season during the Super XV), CJ Stander (who is having a storming season at Currie Cup and Siya Kolisi who has not yet had a look in.

    Perhaps a little patience is in order, form reading Meyer it seems he is doing his utmost to find a pack that can perform at the level required and his experimentation is unlikely to end untl the big name players all return from injury and the new players have settled.

    As much as we want to see a new backline, we need a pack that is functioning, the players need to get accustomed to their roles, they need to get to know each other, they need to settle into how the set phases are run, they need to start combining as a collective and that is very hard indeed when experimentation is the priority and injuries curb experimentation.

  2. avatar Ollie says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Reply to biltongbek @ 9:25 am:

    Where have I heard that before, just in a shorter version :twisted:

  3. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Reply to biltongbek @ 9:25 am:

    Bok pack with all it’s several hundred caps of experience last year were exactly like this year’s pack… they still don’t hit the rucks at pace en-masse and clear-out as a unit on attack… nor do they counter-ruck in the same means on opposition ball…

    Nothings changed despite the coach’s nor does it matter what the cap experience is… and until then the slow-ball and poor break-down woes will continue… no matter the personnel…

  4. avatar DavidS says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks Billies

    Some sense from you in large amounts… as opposed to Bryce’s Spiros jaundiced pro Australianism…

  5. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Reply to DavidS @ 1:39 pm:

    Oh I agree with everything that BB said… but on top of that… there has been zero attempt since 2011 to ‘fix’ the poor state of break-down affairs for the much-needed ‘quick-ball’… and even the Argies are dominating us in this respect as a consequence…

    One only has to compare the ITM to the CC in this respect… even at that level ALL the Kiwi side’s when with ball in hand, have support runners to off-load to… but more importantly can instantly hit the rucks and clear-out any opposition at pace and in more than ones and twos when the ball goes to ground (not to mention counter-ruck on opposition ball)… nothings changed for the Boks in this regard… and it does not matter who the personnel are… from the 1/4 final legend pack to the current crop… it’s simply not an ‘experience’ issue…

  6. avatar Duiwel says:
    September 7th, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Ja-ja.
    Talk is cheap.
    Win.
    Pretty or ugly.
    Whatever .
    Just win.

  7. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    September 8th, 2012 at 4:03 am

    Reply to Duiwel @ 1:48 pm:

    Exactly… and all the more important for Bok kicking to be on song…

    There is zero room for error with place-kicking in test rugby… Bok’s missed two in the 1/4 final and lost… Bok’s missed 3 against England and drew… Bok’s missed 4 against the Puma’s and drew…

    They’d be 6 from 6 if only a third of those had gone over…

    Berrick Barnes is yet to miss one…

  8. avatar Kevin Rack says:
    September 8th, 2012 at 6:32 am

    The aussies always talk themselves up as running rugby side and the Saffa sides are bigger. When you see the kicking stats and pack weights you see the commentators talk the same repeated shit as always. The major advantage of no TV is I can listen to South African commentary and not some of the biggest dumb idiots ever, Marto the retard and I dont know the rules Kearns, lets not mention piggy face Clarke.

    Last week some of our weapons were not working: line outs, physicality, the pods, holding the tackle player up, quick ball and kicking.

    The Argies played Hougaard. We wait for the 9 to get to the ruck before the ball is passed. So impeded the 9. Many times the ball was sitting there, players ran in to the ruck when in fact they should have got the ball. Little variations cause headaches for the opposition. We are too structured at times and play the same boring patterns which means predictability

    A big part of the game plan is to attack and steal the opp’s line out ball. When that does not happen, problems as we use the kicking game to force this part of our attack.

    Last week the Argies did not allow us to hold the player up and took the ball to the ground negating turnover mall.

    Physicality, well that matched us and more. Pottie tackled and tackled but he was manhandled and did not have enough agro.

    We still have too many issues with technique. Too upright, missing tackles, not taking the high ball in the air, not doing the pillar role properly.

    We run away from support where as the Kiwis will change the running line back into the forwards again and so they can clean out at pace. Our guys bodies angles are wrong at ruck and we dont have enough guys competing for the ball.

    We did not use blockers in back line play. The forwards acting as blockers/dummies were in fact getting the ball instead of been in front of the players obstructing the opposition.

    The Aussies will use the umbrella defense as the Argies did so effectively last week. We nearly managed to get the skip ball going, except it went to JDV, or the over head lob for the player on the outside. Nearly. If the players can get the ball at pace its game on but trying to run over the oke does not work. FSteyn was guilty here on 3 occasions. He had players on his outside in space and got caught in ball and all tackles.
    Offload before been tackled instead of going to ground enforcing the ruck and thereby slowing the game down.

    I hope the 2 new players are up to the pace of the game.

  9. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    September 8th, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Reply to Kevin Rack @ 6:32 am:

    Boks don’t have support runners who then clear-out ruck-ball quickly and en-masse on attack… nor counter-ruck in the same manner… that is their biggest problem atm… they’re isolated, stripped or their ball slowed down to a snails pace…

    Same mistake the Wallabies have been making by allowing the AB’s all over their own ball… and not bothering to counter-ruck and apply pressure on AB ball…

    As for commentators… other than Greg Martin… and Kearns for entertainment… Clarke, Kafer and co far out-strip any other nation’s commentary in every respect by a country mile (particularly the Kiwi’s)…

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