Despite the disappointment of another draw against Australia in Saturday’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship test in Bloemfontein, the Springbok game plan is developing into a more ball-in-hand attack that needs to be backed and nurtured.
But the question of whether it will be good enough to be competitive with the all-conquering All Blacks ahead of Saturday’s return clash at Newlands is another thing altogether.
There can be much said about the Springboks draw against Australia and how they left several tries on the park in a game they had almost 60 percent possession of. In essence, while the Boks played with a new found confidence, their execution was poor, and while they made the inroads they wanted to in the middle part of the field, composure and patience are still areas where the team needs a lot of work.
Watching the Boks play on Saturday it was fairly obvious from the kickoff that the plan was to try and use the altitude and run the Wallabies off the park. But a game plan of that nature needs both confidence and execution, and while the Boks were good in patches, it was the times they were lacking that brought Australia back into the game.
Coetzee acknowledged afterwards that while the draw “felt like a loss”, there were encouraging steps forward in the development process of the side.
“We know that we created a lot of opportunities and that to me is a massive positive,” he said. “This team, in the process that we’re busy with, can feel that they were the better team at one stage than the Australians out there.
“I know we have to win and we must win, but we are taking the right steps in the right direction.”
And while a lot can be said about decision-making in the crucial moments, and Australia’s clever tactic of hovering a player to try and stop the offload in contact, the Boks should be applauded for their positive approach.
What can improve is the areas they decide to run in, as on Saturday the Boks ran out of their own 22 in a dangerous tactic that could easily have backfired against a better side. But in terms of the team’s development, the approach is laudable, although at times the decision-making could have been better.
The Boks have adopted the one-three-three-one approach where they split the field with two loose forwards on the wing, and two pods of threes in the middle to make the inroads there. Usually this means one player takes the ball up, and two clean behind him, working until the space is found behind, where players will pass behind the dummy runner in an effort to get it wide fast.
This worked particularly well in unleashing Siya Kolisi out wide for Jan Serfontein’s try but too often the final pass let the Boks down. Against the All Blacks that could be suicide as the World Champions have the best counter-attacking game in the business.
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A look at Sanzaar’s official stats shows just how dominant the Springboks were, and how the final scoreline flattered an Australian side that used their limited opportunities well.
It also poses a number of questions on how the Springboks should play against the All Blacks this weekend, and if the ball-in-play approach on the Newlands pitch against the greatest team in the world is the right one to follow.
The Boks overwhelmingly dominated all the statistics, making 619 metres as opposed to 438 from Australia, and were tops in defenders beaten (27-20), passes completed (198-116), clean breaks (23-12), offloads (22-15) and rucks won (83-58), showing just how much they dominated not only possession and territory but had the most ball-in-hand as well.
Even in the kicking stats it was clear the Boks didn’t use the aerial rout much – punting the ball only 13 times in the game – that’s less than once every seven minutes of play.
The approach to send it wide was underlined even more by the fact that flyhalf Elton Jantjies made just two metres upfield with the ball in five carries, passing no less than 30 times as he was used more as a conduit than a playmaker on the day.
Jesse Kriel made the most carries (14) along with Dillyn Leyds (14), while the rest of the back three – Courtnal Skosan (13) and Andries Coetzee (13) verified this approach even more with the amount of ball they touched.
If the Boks were to look for a statistical pointer to where they conceded points, it would always be in missed tackles, with the channel between Jantjies (4 missed tackles) and Jan Serfontein (3 missed tackles) providing the key for where they can tighten up.
Against the All Blacks, limiting mistakes will be key, as Albany showed. The moment the Boks fell behind on the scoreboard they suffered. Heads dropped and composure was lost.
To beat the All Blacks you need to disrupt their game plan and force them into pressure situations that you can exploit.
This Springbok team’s game plan on Saturday was a positive step in the right direction. With composure and patience, and time, it can develop into a game plan that will power the Boks forward.
Coaches will always “trust the processes” to take them forward, but this week may be right to vary it more.
A run-at-all-costs approach may be playing into the hands of the world’s best team.