Former All Blacks, Force and Lions coach JOHN MITCHELL on how the Springboks can close the gap on the world champions.
SA Rugby Magazine
The Springboks and All Blacks should take a bow for producing a spectacle at Ellis Park that was terrific to watch. There were endless transitions between attack and defence and so many moments to remember.
This was the first time in a long time that the Boks took the All Blacks on properly and played to win and not just defend. Scoring four tries against them was mentally significant going forward.
I’ve said before that the Springboks have plenty of room for growth, and they will become an even better side if they can do the following:
Keep their world-class players on the field for 80 minutes. When you have momentum, keep your foot on the opposition’s throat and go for the jugular. When the Boks had a 5m scrum on the All Blacks’ tryline in the 50th minute at Ellis Park, and were up against a seven-man pack, there was a chance of them getting a penalty try. Instead, they pulled the Du Plessis brothers off the field and their scrum was never as dominant again in the match.
Ensure the scrum is dominant for 80 minutes. They can’t fade like they did during the second half at Ellis Park.
Create the right team mix. The Boks need a good middle lineout jumper, quality back-up tighthead and loosehead props, and a good replacement wing. They must also start using Pat Lambie more effectively.
Get Morné Steyn to stand flatter on attack. This will ensure he’s a threat with ball in hand and not just a distributor.
Try to gain possession from short restarts. The All Blacks did this well at the beginning of the Ellis Park Test when they caught the Boks by surprise.
Win contestable catches from kicks. Juandré Kruger letting the ball bounce does not inspire confidence. The Boks can learn from the All Blacks here. Israel Dagg is outstanding in the air. When Aaron Smith box kicks, Julian Savea and Conrad Smith chase and often win the ball in the air. And if Conrad Smith can’t get to the ball first, he makes excellent contact with the opposition player.
Get their exit kicking plays right. The Boks had a scrum at the end of the first half from which they could have used three or four forwards to take the ball up and wind down the clock. Instead, they kicked for touch and the All Blacks had enough time to launch another attack and score a try that gave them a 21-15 lead. The Boks also need to contest their own kicks by having fast kick-chase players in the first line.
Get the tight-forward defenders to push up and stay square for two passes inside the opposition flyhalf. The Bok forwards have a tendency to drop their shoulders away when the ball has been passed away from their tackle channel, and they are constantly susceptible to switch plays and inside passes as they give a weak shoulder by not pushing up and remaining square.
Get the inside defenders to work harder and stay square on the inside after the pass on to the next attacker. Beauden Barrett scored because Steyn did not work hard enough on the inside and Jean de Villiers broke the defence alignment by getting ahead of Steyn.
Ensure there is scramble defence after their defensive line is breached. The Boks need to get back and make the potentially try-saving tackles.
Review their strength and conditioning strategy and plan. This will help to improve the previous two points.
Learn to score back-to-back points. Too often they score and then allow the opposition to hit back.
Keep the ball inside the field of play near the sidelines. You do this either by running a hard inside shoulder line or developing a drop-off pass when you have width and depth.
The Springboks may have lost that Rugby Championship decider, but their intent to score four tries has to be admired, as does the greater variety they have brought to their game in attack and defence.
Their scrum and lineout drive are their big strengths. They have a great mix of loose forwards who thrive off this platform and enjoy hitting hard in the tackle, building pressure on the ball and with ball in hand.
The Bok backline is very quick. Willie le Roux adds another threat as he chances his arm, while Bryan Habana and Steyn are playing with confidence again.
The Boks’ short and width passing is improving, as are their running lines. Their decision-making when attacking the front end of the breakdown space after a good tackle is also very effective.
If they can address the above 13 areas, they will become an even stronger team.
The margins between the Boks and All Blacks are tight and I like where the Boks are positioned with the World Cup in mind.
Their trajectory is upward.