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Battered Boks need to hit the “reset” button

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, RWC 2015, Springboks on 22 Sep 2015 at 10:41
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , , ,

A good friend of mine (and I think you know who I’m talking about) likes to talk about team culture a lot – and in particular, refers often to a team having a “default play” or trusted go-to move or style that they know in their sleep and can always count on to get them out of a slump. Heyneke Meyer’s somewhat schizophrenic Springboks have lost their way quite comprehensively over the last 12 months and while it may not be an overly popular suggestion, I feel they need to go back to what has worked for them in the past – and do so quickly.

Springbok team culture – what does it mean? What does it signify? Ask Jake White. Ask Peter de Villiers, even and both will tell you that when they were successful, it was on the back of a very conservative gameplan that played to the strengths of the average South African player. We all remember de Villers and even Carel du Plessis before him, taking over the Bok reigns with big talk about “all out attacking rugby”. De Villiers changed that plan pretty damn quickly after 6 months in the job – and du Plessis may well have done the same had he lasted that long. White barely strayed from the “Jakeball” blueprint during his tenure and continues to build his teams around it even today, with a dominant pack and conservative flyhalf ensuring that play remains in the right areas of the field. Defensive pressure forces turnover tries, forward dominance supplies penalties and the results take care of themselves.

The good new, for Meyer, is that he has hardly dared to step outside of those confines himself – at least, not selection wise. Widely lambasted (and lampooned) for picking an old squad, Meyer has in his hands a large contingent of players left over from World Cup campaigns under both White and de Villiers and faced with an immediate need to simply “get out of the pool” after the Japan fiasco, simply has to find a way to win the next three games. Attractive, exciting rugby and all that jazz simply has to take a back seat and Meyer has to remember that he actually has a “Plan B”, make it his “Plan A” and furiously re-plan in the background while his team gets on with playing the way they know how to.

The Boks probably don’t have a squad (either playing or coaching) that is going to challenge for the World Cup this year. I think we know that and the failure to build such a squad is what will ultimately cost this coach his job. I do not believe that the Boks, even playing low-risk, forward-oriented rugby, will challenge the likes of England, Australia or New Zealand at the moment, but they do have the blueprint and the personnel they need to account for Samoa, Scotland and the USA, which should see them still top Group B.

Mayer needs to make some tough choices, though – since while I say he needs to revert to a pattern that works, he cannot afford to carry passengers. Victor Matfield and Jean de Villiers need to take a back seat, with one of Duane Vermeulen or Fourie du Preez a must to captain the side. Other changes should see Morne Steyn back at flyhalf in tandem with du Preez, while JP Pietersen (who is the most experienced defender in that position) must come into the 13 jersey. Howls of protest there will be, but Zane Kirchner remains the best option at fullback under this pattern, while the game-breaking abilities of Willie le Roux and Jesse Kriel can better be used off the wing and bench respectively.


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