Current Springboks should learn from the Boks of yore, who have proven that well-placed drops can
The celebrations that marked the recent anniversary of June 24 1995 – the day the Springboks won the World Cup for the first time – contained a hidden message for Heyneke Meyer and the current Boks. It was good to be reminded of how nice it is to win the Webb Ellis Cup and the lifelong fame attached to it, but there was a subliminal reminder of the method behind that victory.
Joel Stransky brought glory to his country with a drop goal in the second period of extra time – his second of the match.
Stransky scored all his side’s points in the 15-12 win – and six of those came by way of drops, or field goals, as this method of scoring is inclined to be called in other countries.
The drop is an abomination to many, as it can be scored without a team even threatening the opposition’s line, but to canny coaches and players it is a way to snatch difficult games. Kitch Christie, coach of the ’95 Boks, was a believer. Having cut his coaching teeth in Northern Transvaal in the dominant days of Naas Botha, he understood its value and drummed into Stransky that he should try to drop more often.
Francois Pienaar’s team practised drop-kicking situations and Christie made Stransky add drop-kicks in his kicking drills.
Then came the moment in the final when the drop was on and Stransky made the perfect contact to write his name into history.
And somewhere in England a young fly half, who loved practising all kinds of kicking, must have been watching and took note.
By 1999, Jonny Wilkinson was part of the England squad and, in 2003, also in extra time, clinched the cup for his country with a drop goal – with just seconds left to play in the final against Australia in Sydney.
And there you have it – two of the seven World Cup finals to date have been settled by drop goals.
Small wonder Christie’s mantra to Stransky was “remember the drop!”
The drop has always been an important part of the Springboks’ arsenal – going back to the eras of Bennie Osler, Hansie Brewis, Gerald Bosch, Piet Visagie, Botha and, more recently, Morné Steyn.
In the 1999 World Cup quarterfinal against England in the Stade de France in Paris, Jannie de Beer kicked a world record five to steer the Boks into the semis.
But there have also been times when South Africa were put to the sword by a sharply taken drop kick.
Jeremy Guscott won the 1997 series for the British and Irish Lions with an unexpected drop goal in the second test (of three) in Durban and, in 1999, the only drop of Stephen Larkham’s test career knocked South Africa out in the semifinal of the World Cup at Twickenham.
However, in the other ’99 semifinal between the All Blacks and France, it was the two drops by Christophe Lamaison that sparked the comeback, which gave the French victory in a game many still rate as the best in World Cup tournaments.
There were other times when resorting to drops might have saved plenty of heartache.
One game that stands out is the lamented quarterfinal in 2011 against Australia in Wellington when the Springboks dominated but could not win … an outcome that might have been reversed had they instructed Steyn to resort to drop-kicking.
So while Meyer has often been criticised for being too fond of the kicking game, hopefully at least a little time has been spent on preparing Handré Pollard, Patrick Lambie or Steyn, whoever might be at fly half, to be prepared to kick the heart out of opponents with a devastating drop.