Pre­dictable Boks can­not out­wit, out­play and out­last

CityPress - - Sport - Dan Retief dan.retief@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @retief­dan

On the way to a Spring­bok vic­tory in the World Cup in France in 2007, a brief in­ter­view with Ed­die Jones in Mar­seilles pro­vided cru­cial in­sight into his role.

The coach who guided the Wal­la­bies to the fi­nal of the 2003 tour­na­ment had, through what turned out to be for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances, been added to the Bok coach­ing staff.

And once the Webb El­lis Cup had been won for a sec­ond time, it be­came ap­par­ent Jones had added some vi­tal – if tiny – trap­pings to the Spring­boks’ style of play that had made all the dif­fer­ence.

Jones was al­ways re­luc­tant to be in­ter­viewed, as he sud­denly found him­self in the camp of the en­emy and down­played the part he played, but the lit­tle I man­aged to ex­tract from him made per­fect sense.

He ex­plained that, as the coach of the Brumbies and the Wal­la­bies, he had made a keen study of South Africa’s way of play­ing – and found a method that was pretty con­sis­tent in all our teams.

He had also in­sti­tuted a tech­nique, learnt from his Aus­tralian pre­de­ces­sor and 1999 World Cup win­ner Rod Macqueen, of get­ting play­ers in­volved in the team’s plot­ting tac­tics.

Play­ers were asked to view their South African (or New Zealand) op­po­si­tion as strongholds and told to come up with means “to sack the fortress”.

Jones pointed out that while his South African coun­ter­parts had spent time on mak­ing their meth­ods work, he had spent years schem­ing about how to break down those plans.

In a way, the Aus­tralian coach knew us bet­ter than we knew our­selves and he had three sim­ple thoughts on what he felt the Spring­bok team could do bet­ter.

The Boks – and by im­pli­ca­tion other South African teams – were pre­dictable and ba­si­cally broad­cast what they were in­tent on do­ing and who was go­ing to get the ball.

They also tended not to use the blind side and did not com­mu­ni­cate with each other. So his tweaks were mi­nor. A num­ber of the Spring­boks’ tries were en­gi­neered, with Fourie du Preez hold­ing the ba­ton on the short side, and he en­cour­aged more for­wards to of­fer them­selves as ball car­ri­ers at the break­down to cre­ate doubt among de­fend­ers.

It was a small ad­just­ment, but it played a huge role in en­hanc­ing the Boks’ usual im­mense phys­i­cal­ity at the col­li­sions be­cause of the vari­a­tions in­tro­duced in the next phase.

My col­umn last week, “Baby Boks are hulks, but are they in­cred­i­ble?”, turned out to be spot on.

It posed the ques­tion of whether the Ju­nior Spring­boks could con­tinue to be dom­i­nant when they couldn’t bully their way to vic­tory.

They couldn’t. Eng­land beat them well to go through to the fi­nal.

How­ever, I felt no sat­is­fac­tion at be­ing right.

I had hoped South Africa’s young­sters would prove me wrong, that they would sur­prise by bring­ing to bear the tal­ents I know they pos­sess in ways which would out­fox the English and send alarm bells ring­ing in the New Zealand camp.

As it turned out, they got on the wrong side of the ref­eree’s de­ci­sions – per­haps be­cause they were try­ing so hard to “im­pose” them­selves, and failed to make the state­ment I had hoped for.

In the end, they did not even look like hulks; just a side out­wit­ted and out­played; a team de­void of any guile; a team dis­play­ing all the pre­dictabil­ity Jones talked about eight years ago.

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