Predictable Boks cannot outwit, outplay and outlast
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.