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Re-think the match 22


Our very own Brendon Shields, who is under a self-imposed ban from blogging till now, shares his views on how we should re-shape and re-think how we use the whole team.

by Brendon Shields

I made a pledge to not blog again until such a time that the Springboks use 15 guys to play rugby and not just 10. I got frustrated talking to guys who seemed hell-bent on defending the way we play as if we can as a nation never aspire to be better than the best. I got tired and annoyed at hearing how teams like the Stormers are suddenly the benchmark by which SA rugby hopes to beat all-comers. “The game is today about defence” and “you cannot take chances at test level” are but some of the logic sprouted on blogs and social networks.  The whole affair just became too depressing.

But yesterday’s loss will naturally make us re-think our approach to the game from schools level right up to the Boks. I think most rugby people now realise that we have to embrace 22 man, 90 minute TOTAL rugby if we wish to be #1 again.  No longer can we be a great defending side without being a great attacking one also. And no longer can we introduce a player with 5 minutes to go because we wanted to give him a run?

The key for me is our need to not only re-invent our approach to selection but to also redefine our goals as a rugby playing nation. We have some problems and we need some solutions. My first idea is to re-think the matchday 22 and it will be great if fellow bloggers can debate this and also come up with ideas in other aspects of the game.

I suggest we adopt and American football approach to our bench whereby you have a ‘defence’ and an ‘offence’ and you should be able to switch between the two. If it’s a wet day in Dublin and we know its going to be a slog with a 9-6 scoreline then we start with our defensive team and introduce our attack as the game goes on (and if circumstances allows us to do so). Most days we start with our best attacking team and we go gung-ho for 60 minutes and do everything in our power to build a lead. In the last 20 minutes we introduce our ‘defence-minded’ bench and we close out the game.

We should select player who will never have an off day on attack – like an Israel Dagg or a Conrad Smith. But on the day when these players leak too many points then we introduce our defensive players earlier.

This approach will allow us to select our experienced (but slower) players on the bench. For example I believe if we truly want to go out and play attacking rugby we need to start with a Paul Jordaan or a Juan De Jong at 13 and have a Jean De Villiers on the bench. Similarly we need to start with a Keegan Daniel and have a Duane Vermeulen on the bench. I bet there is nothing worse than to trail a team by 15 points only for them to introduce 500 caps in the last 20 minutes. We have some great experienced players from an overtly defence-minded era and I think we can utilise this not by having them start but by having them consolidate.

For too long now have we seen a bench badly used or not used at all. My point is that the selection for the bench is already wrong as we seem to only have AN Other should our first player get injured.  We select the wrong players on the bench because our overall strategy is never to fight a battle with 22 men. If we are going to re-invent rugby, start by calling a team a XXII and not an XV. Once we get the  22 man selection right then our next goal is to find that perfect balance between defence and attack (which in SA only the Sharks seem to possess right now).


  1. Sharks are coached by a Kiwi. Hmmm something in this.

    Its the Saffa coaches and HM and his game plan is 10 years too late.

    I know you pain Brendon, I threw out the tv (I swear this is true) a few days after the RWC and banned myself from watching no more S15 and RWC’s. Never ever!!! (My ban was not quite a real ban as I watched S15 finals.)

    We now pass the ball to a backline who have no experience what to do with the pill as they have only ever kicked and chased and when they ff up a backline move we are surprised. Running rugby is about intent and belief.

  2. Jake White apparently selected his bench first.

    My bench for EOY tour would be:

    Jannie Du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Joe Van Niekerk, Bakkies Botha, Jean De Villiers, Morne Steyn, Butch James.

    We already have 2 scrummies on field. Jean Divs cover wings. Morne cover 10 and 15. Butch cover 10/12/13

    Joe and Bakkies can help with Euro conditions. Tons of experience and mentoring right there. All great defensive players and leaders.

  3. Vermaak is another great defensive player for my bench.

    I will also introduce almost an entire bench at the same time. So its 7 players coming on with the clear intention of changing strategy.

  4. If you have an entire bench full of player who know on the Monday already that they will all play at least 20 minutes on Saturday – I am sure their approach to training will be vastly different.

    To be honest if I were Lambie right now I would be slightly demotivated. Carry tackle bags for 4 weeks and coach patronizingly puts you on at a time when you cannot influence the outcome.

    My bench is almost a team within a team – picked with a clear goal in mind and drilled throughout the week to implement this

  5. and imagine a 400 cap bench sitting during the first half with the technical analyst and working out exactly what to do when they come on?

  6. The way I see us evolve for the future, get rid of the players who have been playing kick and chase. Guys like Morne, de Villiers, Pienaar and Kirchner must be set to pasture. we will not progress by keeping them in the team, they are simply too indoctrinated in the kick and chase style game.

    Beast, Jannie, Coenie – we need one more – Cilliers, Kitshoff, Maljerbe?

    Bimsarck, Adriaan, – Chiliboy?

    Juandre, Bekker, v d Merwe, Etzebeth – Would like to see Bresler have a go.

    Schalk, Willem, Louw, Vermeulen, Coetzee? Spies?

    Major problem, need to take, maybe Mcleod, Pretorius and Bondisio?

    Fly half.
    Goosen, Jantjies – Give Lambie a shot?

    Frans Steyn (should he be a fullback rather), Taute, Serfontein, de Jongh (will he start distributing?)Jordaan.

    Rhule, Habana, JP Pietersen (could he be better employed at 13?), Hougaard.

    Willie le Roux, Louis Ludick, Pat Lambie?

  7. Reply to biltongbek @ 10:30 am:

    thing is, as 2009 have shown, these players, indoctrinated or not, CAN play that game and defend their lead very well (in 2009 we were masters at winning by 4 points as we spent the last 20 minutes defending)

    Dont throw away their experience either. Use them as DEFENSE from the bench.

    That sounds like a rap…

  8. Reply to The Year of the Cheetah @ 10:35 am: cheetah, if you have JP Pietersen, Habana and Frans Steyn in the back line there is more than enough experience in the backs.

    I disagree about defending a lead well in these days. We were leading the Wallabies in Perth, lost that one, Leading the all Blakcs on Saturday, lost that one.

    You can’t go out to protect leads anymore, you need to play 80 minutes.

  9. Reply to biltongbek @ 10:58 am:

    No i want a total change whereby for 60 minutes we play gung ho throw kitchen sink at it flamboyant balls to the wall stuff.

    The with 20 to go, we become pragmatic and play the percentages.

    First 60 you play with Jordaans and De Jongs and Aplons of this world. Last 20 its the Steyns and De Villiers etc gang who cannot score freely but who can defend well.

  10. Hi guys

    Slightly off topic, but relevant to this is to debunk the myth that “defence wins matches”. An American book i read recently, called “Scorecasting” by Thomas Moskowitz examines a lot of myths about sport and looks at the stats.

    One of his chapters looks at this theory that defence wins matches and finds that there is no statistical difference between the success rates of the teams with the best defensive records and the best attacking records. He used American football, basketball and ice hockey stats, not rugby stats, but I have no reason to believe that the findings would be different.

    So why do coaches and players bang on about defence? The reason, he reckons, is that it reflects a mindset. Scoring points is the glamorous part of the game, so coaches maybe feel that they have to emphasise the drudgery and hard work that goes into defending.

    This also seems to fit into the conservative mindset of many SA coaches, which is why we hear it so often in this country.

  11. Furthermore, good attacking play is the result of a great deal of drudgery and hard work on the training pitch. The ABs (and Barcelona football team too, to use an external analogy) make it all look really simple, but one tends to forget just how much hard work goes into those clever little passes out of the tackle.

  12. Reply to il postino @ 2:08 pm:

    Stormers’ success last year in the SS was
    built on defence – not scoring tries.

    Cheetahs were very good on attack, shit on

    But saying that I don’t necessarily mean to
    differ from what you quoted.

  13. I have NEVER seen the motivation for
    letting a player play 4 minutes in a
    test – like Liebenberg.
    Why cheapen what we call caps?

    Agree with Brendan – 20 minutes minimum,
    or not at all, depending on the
    circumstances on the pitch.

    In WC 2007 Jake made SEVEN instant changes
    against Samoa(?) Fiji(?) and the Boks then
    beat the living shit out of them.

  14. Hi Posti!!!

    You back? How are you?

    Also the thing about defense is that it takes balls to do – Andries Bekker can run with the ball all day long – but can he smash people in the tackle all day long? Will he turn back and chase like Bakkies did?

    Thus we can assume that someone that gives everything in defense will also give everything in attack, because attacking is the easy part.


  15. Boertjie, I’m not trying to underplay the importance of defence. Teams should play to their strengths, whether it is attack or defence. What the research shows is that the one is not more important than the other (the NFL data shows that the league was won by the best defenders 60% of the time, and by the the best attackers 60% of the time – obviously the best attacking team will often be the best defending team).

    My concern in SA is that we think defence is the ONLY way. And to me this means we suppress some great attacking talent that we do have in this country. We should aim to be great at both.

  16. Boertjie

    Doesn’t the fact that the guy made an appearance on the pitch but them into a higher pay bracket?

    I am speaking under correction here but
    last thing I heard is for example:

    Starter – we say 100k
    Bench – but came onto the field – 50k
    And just on Bench – 25k

    Might have changed but that is the last thing I remeber.


  17. Boertjie, the only reason you put a guy on for five minutes should be for an injury (or if the guy on the pitch is really running out of steam) or to waste time.

    Putting a new hooker on in the last few minutes when he has a crucial tryline throw-in, or a new prop with a scrum on your own tryline, is tempting fate – as we saw with Liebenberg in Perth.

    To make an impact, a sub needs a good 15 – 20 mins to settle.

  18. Methos, you are falling into the same fallacy: clearing rucks on your own ball, making yourself available in an attacking position, taking on a big tackler and making sure you take the tackle and then make the ball available to someone in a good position – this takes brains, hard work and balls!

    The trouble is that the highlights packages show tries much more than they show great tackles.

  19. Posty

    I was trying to link into the bit of why our coaches focus on defense the whole time…

    “fallacy” – and don’t use big words on me young man – You know I’m a afrikaans rockspider, forward…


  20. Good idea on paper. Unfortunately in the real world the bench has also one very important purpose in also having to cover injuries. The gridiron teams hve their reserves on top of their attack & defensive teams as far a I know.

  21. Reply to Deon @ 3:09 pm:

    Of course. But changing your game so that players only ever play 60 minutes will reduce injuries.

    I would like to see teams play a PLAN A and regardless of whether someone from the bench must come on earlier to replace an injured player – the team only switches to Plan B once the remaining guys from bench come on around the 60 minute mark.

    Yes Boer, The Jake White trick VS Fiji is a great example yet no-one has ever thought about doing this type of thing again?

  22. Hmmm 22man 85min rugby… sounds familiar…

    Fact of the matter is that no matter who a fan ‘punts’ as being ‘better’ or more ‘suited’ than another (down to his ‘gut’ feel and not the information those far more qualified have at their disposal)… the entire Bok 22 have very little clue on solving their tight-loose woes…

    Since the RWC exit they still do not protect their own ruck ball as a unit and at speed (and that makes zero difference on who is picked at 6), they have no clue what a counter-ruck as a unit on opposition ball is, have long forgotten how to pick-and-go as a unit at pace with power… splitting opposition up the middle and sucking in defenders with backs running off quick ball…

    And you will not beat a top 2 side with the above deficiencies no matter who is punted as ‘better,faster, more creative’ than the other…

  23. As for the All Black 22… you’ll never see a better example of brilliant hybrid players that can interchange under any situation and in almost every position from 1-22 for 85 minutes…

    They aren’t chosen for ‘this 15 to play A plan’… and ‘this 7 on the bench to play B plan’… that’s disjointed logic and not what I mean’t by 22 man 85 min rugby.

    Of course it helps that they are pretty much the best in their positions in the world, have world-class conditioning and world-class coaching… IMO South Africa players (despite what most their fans punt on ‘gut-feel’) are very far from this in every respect… individually (give or take a few) and more important collectively…

    And this applies to the rest of the pack chasing the All Blacks too…

    Until that gaps starts to narrow… expect the ‘real money’ (as in the bookies), continue to give the home side no chance of a win (as they did last weekend)… no matter which Goosen, Jantjes or Flo is being punted as a saviour…

  24. Great article.

    I would offer just one key edit:

    “We should select player who will never have an off day on attack – like an Israel Dagg”


    “We should select player who will never have an off day on attack – like a Messerschmitt-Willie LeRoux.”

  25. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 6:02 am:

    I just reason that the bench can be much better utilized than it is now. having a bench capable of instantaneously alter the gameplan (as in Fiji game) is something worth exploring.

    Alternatively you should only have hybrid players on the bench but these players must all be able to make an impact. Think Deon Fourie who can play 2 and 7. Schalk Brits who can play 2 and 12/13. Alberts who can play 4/5/6/7/8. Ruan Pienaar, Hougaard, Lambie.

    Problem is its more of the same. I would like to see a coach explore having 2 vastly different players in key positions on the bench.

    We MUST find a way to get absolute spark players like Jordaan into the setup yet buy insurance of having defensive minded players in the 22 also.

    More importantly we need to find a way for top end players to play less rugby.

    I would love to know from Ross Tucker when injuries occur most in a rugby game but logic dictates its the last 20 minutes that carry most strain hence most games being won or lost in this stanza.

    Now imagine we almost always have 7 fresh legs on?

    And if one player gets injured – then play with 14 men. Of those 7 are fresh. Chances are you will still have an edge.

  26. Reply to Americano @ 9:13 am:

    i would LOVE to see the Boks select this kid at wing and also allow him to go into the 10 channel every now and then.

    ‘spelskepper’ is the word.

    Between this kid and Schalk Brits the Boks will once more see that beat called a line-break.

    The lord bless Pote Human for still allowing Willie to just play his game and amke the odd mistake. Its refreshing in SA rugby that a player is allowed to grow like this.

  27. What does spelskepper mean in english?
    Willie slotting in at 10 is just electric-love it. He creates space seeking to link up – but has the gas to take it all the way if need be. So many options he gives. His try -assist- stats in S15 is all HM needs to see really for him to “do the right thing”.
    I have to commend you on your post YOC. It’s genius.
    Are you secretly Naka Drotske? It’s cool – I won’t tell anyone

  28. Reply to Americano @ 10:04 am:

    no man just a cheetah fan myself.

    Willie is exactly the type of player to never be a Bok yet in Oz would have played a few tests already.

    In SA we dont look at the 3 tries he created (15 points) but instead look at the 3 tackles he missed of which one lead to a try (5 points).

    Talk about kwas rugby, this kid will be a star soon:


    watch him in the next 2 years..

  29. Reply to The Year of the Cheetah @ 10:35 am:

    “Willie is exactly the type of player to never be a Bok yet in Oz would have played a few tests already.”

    Punters keep saying about player’s based upon their ‘gut-feeling’… yet when a Sarel Pretorius is sent over to Aus under exactly those ‘feelings’ he is now-where and returns ‘tail-betwixed’ legs…

    In that same vain you mention Jordaan… you’re entitled to your opinion… and I watched him have some shocker moments in the U20 RWC and some very good moments (as did Serfontein with an even more impressive contribution)… the difference being I’d not be punting them at senior level over coach’s on ‘gut-feeling’….

  30. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 10:43 am:

    Pretorius is too small and never suited Tahs play.

    I dont think he is international quality.

    Jordaan is raw but has tons of X factor. Serfontein is a real Danie Gerber but could easily at Bulls become just another boertjie battering ram.

    The point is, a player like Willie has in a very short space of time achieved a whole lot. He creates more play than pretty much any player in SA and on performance in SUper rugby and CC should at least be close to a call up, yet our mentality is such that we will never even give the kid a look-in.

  31. Reply to The Year of the Cheetah @ 10:47 am:

    and secondly, if hard game stats and proven ability is your benchmark for selecting every player then many Boks dont belong there.

    Meyer has time. Take a chance.

    We know what we have in Habana and JPP and Mvovo and Basson etc. Give Willie a shot and tell him to play his natural game against Scotland and Ireland.

    I willing to be good money that with 15 minutes to go against a tiring defence the introduction of Willie and Jordaan type players can give you 14 points extra.

  32. Reply to The Year of the Cheetah @ 10:55 am:

    Have you been reading the press and fan comments… Meyer has ZERO time for anything…

    “I willing to be good money that with 15 minutes to go against a tiring defence the introduction of Willie and Jordaan type players can give you 14 points extra.”

    Er but when does that happen against the All Blacks? And for the last two tests Meyer has played the ‘punters’ choice of bench options…

    The biggest problem I have currently is that fans are too busy punting ‘we woulda/coulda/shoulda have won if this or that person was playing’ and missing the glaringly obvious base playing deficiencies that have been plaguing the Boks for some time (and I’m not talking about the back-line play so reliant on base play)…

  33. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 11:40 am:

    sure the base play has been bad since Peter came on board.

    I think a lot of it has to do with our over-reliance on a defensive pattern where we have to ‘fan’ all over the field.

    Look at players communicating on the field. Its all about the “spread” on defense where its used to be about a pack of forwards hunting and defending as a unit.

  34. Fucksakes it’s not rocket science .
    Whether you attack or defend
    Do so intelligently ,skillfully and with passion.
    Like a professional
    As opposed o the shit they’re dishing up
    Since mallet

  35. Reply to Duiwel @ 8:34 pm: Attack skillfully with intelligence and passion.

    Yes, I agree.

    But the question you need to ask about some of the players are can they create doubt in defence, can they read a situation and make the right decisions, and lastly do they have either the pace, step, offload etc. to beat the defence?

    You can’t do any of those things if you aren’t equipped with the necessary skills and intelligence as a player.

  36. Reply to biltongbek @ 8:40 pm:

    I think there was an example by Goosen
    in one of the early ties vs OZ:
    He feigned for a brief half second
    before passing.
    It probably made a 1-2 second difference.
    That is not experience, it’s inbred
    brilliance – not?

  37. The thing is, we have enough players with those inbred skills. We are after-all a rugby nation through and through.

    The trouble is the whole mentality that professional rugby is serious business and the more control we can have over it the better our chances of success.

    Players, once they play pro rugby, seem actively discouraged from enjoying the game by taking risks. We want our 19 year olds to be mature and make the right decisions all the time which is just stupid.

    A guy like Etzebeth is very raw but its beautiful to see.

    “test rugby is not super rugby”

    “currie cup rugby is not super rugby”

    these are the ridiculous untruths we sell as fact yet the All Blacks seem to do what the hell they want.

    How often do we see the Kiwis run riot in no way different to seeing the Chiefs run riot in Super Rugby?

    This is a huge gripe i have particularly with Heyeneke Meyer. He seems to overthink the game and as a result our players seem to lack the passion that even some Snor teams had in abundance.

    Its like we dont care. Why? Because we ‘planned’ everything so well.

    We misunderstand intelligence for over-analysis and totally forget to play with the heart.

  38. and while we bitching – what the FUCK is up with South African sides high-fiving after every won scrum penalty, turnover ball, penalty win?

    Someone mentioned on twitter Saturday night after the game that we celebrate a penalty more than what the Kiwis celebrate a try.

    Can the coach not tell these okes to tone it down?

    Watch the 2007 World Cup Final and you will not see half the self congratulation you saw from our team getting a moerse pak this Saturday.

    a new disease.

  39. Well if you ain’t scoring tries, high fiving a scrum is all that’s left. :whistling:

  40. Reply to biltongbek @ 10:33 pm:


    One very famous quote by Doc Craven:
    “When you score a try, pretend it to
    be an everyday happening for you.”

    One of my ingrained visual memories is
    Ray Mordt’s hat trick try, 3rd test,
    All Blacks, 1981 – the one that drew
    the game and the series before the 11
    minutes of extra time.
    (After one could clearly hear the
    ref before that move say: “Last scrum”,
    as picked up and repeated by the commentators
    and confirmed to me by Wynand Claassen.)

    But I’m deviating (sign of old age). My
    point is that Mordt tried to avoid and
    ignore all the huggings.

    Worth having a look at that whole move –
    find it on YouTube.

    Let’s not even start about all this
    pointing at the sky . . .

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