Fixing the Springboks....another view
November 13, 2012, 16:46:56
One has to start with the question, what does "fixing" mean. For the sake of argument, let's suppose it means developing a more open style of play, while retaining our traditional forward edge.
Right there you have the first conflict. Our forward edge has come with very big loosies eg Alberts and Vermeulen, along with the not so small Louw. These big chaps are great close in to the breakdown, but get out wide and they struggle. Against the Bargies every time the ball went past 12, we seemed to get turned at the next breakdown.
If we really want to play a running game, we need a fetcher. And we need an out wide defender like Big Joe. The only player in the mix that seems to fit that description is Kankowski. In the last S15 Kankan finally showed signs of physically maturing. It was a big loss to not build him into our new team.
Whether Louw is the right fetcher is questionable. But he was a big step up on young Coetzee, who to me is neither fish nor fowl nor legume. He is not a fetcher, not a power forward, not a great open field runner. So he becomes a tackler mostly.....but even there he got gassed by de Jongh for his CC winning try. I just can't see how he is going to make an impact in tests.
Then we get to the locks. We have had the enormous benefit of the greatest lock to play the game, Victor Matfield. The backs run the ball 80 metres and who looms up on the end of the movement to score.....Victor. Mathew Tait shreds Fransie in the RWC final and who tackles him in open field 5 metres out....the great Victor. This man provided line out ball within the blink of an eye to the scrummie's hands in exactly the right locale for a perfect pass. Some say he wasn't physical, but I saw Matfield rip prop forwards away from the tryline with one arm.....he was plenty physical and massively durable.
Therein lies the problem, his logical replacement, Bekker is massively fragile. A great open field player, probably the best offloader out of the tackle in SA rugby.....he can't string two games together. But we need a genuine 5 lock if we want the mobility to support a running game. Flip Flop can't do that, he is 4 lock....so we are left with Juandre Kruger. But we need better options in this area.
To me 4 locks and tightheads are the foundation of the power game. In this regard Etzebeth is a gift. Quite mobile, powerful and a good lineout option. He can be our second all time great lock in two generations. No concerns there if he stays injury free.
The front row has the least to say about the open game and in Bismarck we have the perfectly balanced hooker everybody wants. Also a great fetcher. Jannie is just a scrummager, don't mess with it. But at loosehead the Beast offers unique abilities to support the running game. He must be among the 3 fastest test props around, and he can swerve and step. Why we haven't devised a few set moves that use his capacities beats me. But his issues are a concern.
The net of all this is, if we really want to run the ball and win, there is huge work to be done in honing the pack to support that kind of game. And we need to enhance the forwards running, passing and linking software. I think it was Hakwa who alluded to NZ's advantage in this regard. Schalk is a great linking forward, I can't think of another SA forward who really gets it.....the pure art of linking.
All this and we haven't even started talking about the backs yet.