Lions’ spine gave Boks suc­cess – Meyer

CityPress - - Sport - HEN­DRIK CRONJÉ sports@city­press.co.za

A Lions back­bone, a new de­fence plan, a world-class coach­ing team and a deadly im­pact bench were some of the main in­gre­di­ents in the Spring­boks’ re­cent suc­cesses against France, ac­cord­ing to Heyneke Meyer.

The for­mer Spring­bok coach, said the value of im­proved fit­ness lev­els and a healthy team cul­ture should also not be un­der­es­ti­mated for the role it played in June’s 3-0 series win over France.

“What a lot of peo­ple don’t un­der­stand is that, with the Boks, you be­gin build­ing from the start ev­ery year,” said Meyer.

“You don’t have the lux­ury of time. That was why it was im­por­tant to choose the Lions’ de­ci­sion-mak­ers – their hooker [Mal­colm Marx], num­ber five lock [Franco Mostert], eighth man [War­ren White­ley], scrum half [Ross Cronjé], fly half [El­ton Jan­tjies] and full­back [An­dries Coet­zee].

“They form the back­bone of the Lions. With them in the Spring­bok team, you im­me­di­ately have a game plan. That’s why the team clicked from the first test. It made things much eas­ier.”

Be­cause of the lim­ited prepa­ra­tion time, fit­ness lev­els were fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant to the at­tempt to come back against the French af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son last year.

“I’ve learnt that, in South African rugby, ev­ery­one first has to suf­fer be­fore they’re pre­pared to buy in and work. That’s ex­actly what hap­pened with the play­ers’ con­di­tion­ing af­ter last years’ ind­aba. It seems as if there is now bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the na­tional team and the fran­chises when it comes to con­di­tion­ing.

“Against France, the Boks’ phys­i­cal­ity, which has been a prob­lem since my time, was the best that it has been for years. One could see it in their de­fence and the way they chased down kicks.

“We played at a higher tempo than the French through­out the series. They couldn’t match our phys­i­cal­ity or our in­ten­sity.”

The for­mer Bok coach high­lighted fit­ness as one of the main rea­sons the team showed so much im­prove­ment last month.

“The Boks gave the French no room on at­tack. To suc­ceed in do­ing that, your team has to be fit. The French just couldn’t get over the ad­van­tage line.

“Un­der Bren­dan Ven­ter as de­fence coach, the Boks have also de­cided not to tackle the ball with the player. In­stead, we mostly tar­geted the French’s legs in tack­les. That gave the Bok de­fender’s sup­port­ing player the im­me­di­ate chance to com­pete for ball pos­ses­sion. “The tac­tic of tack­ling around the legs is sim­i­lar to that used by Ar­gentina and other north­ern hemi­sphere teams. “This mas­ter­ful move en­abled the Boks to fare much bet­ter at the break­down point than they had last year. Play­ers like Mal­colm, Coe­nie [Oosthuizen], Siya [Kolisi], Jean-Luc [du Preez], Ross [Cronjé], Jan [Ser­fontein] and Jesse [Kriel] were es­pe­cially good at com­pet­ing for pos­ses­sion at the break­down against the French.” Oosthuizen also im­pressed Meyer as an im­pact player. “The Boks’ im­pact bench was sim­ply in­cred­i­ble. Play­ers like Coe­nie, Steven Kit­shoff, Lood de Jager and Pi­eter-Steph du Toit all made a big dif­fer­ence when they were sent on. The coach­ing team got it right with the balance of the bench.” Ven­ter was not the only mem­ber of the coach­ing team that im­pressed Meyer. “Ev­ery per­son in the coach­ing team brought their side. Franco Smith did very well with the Boks’ at­tack­ing and back­line play. Matt Proud­foot and Jo­hann van Graan also qui­etly made valu­able con­tri­bu­tions.

“Some­thing that struck me was how well the Boks mauled in the test. They also halted nine French rolling mauls close to our own try line. I don’t ac­tu­ally think we re­alise how good we were at that. If France had scored tries from the rolling mauls, the series could have ended very dif­fer­ently.”

Ac­cord­ing to Meyer, Pi­eter Kruger is an­other mem­ber of the coach­ing team who de­serves recog­ni­tion for the hard work he put in at the team camp in Plet­ten­berg Bay.

“It’s good and well that the Lions’ team cul­ture and val­ues spilt over to the Boks. But it’s Pi­eter, [Spring­bok coach] Al­lis­ter [Coet­zee], and War­ren who drove it so strongly and helped es­tab­lish it in the Bok camp. When Rudy Paige scored a try at El­lis Park, you could see that the mem­bers of the team were play­ing for each other. It was nice to see that pos­i­tive team spirit again. Al­lis­ter def­i­nitely also got it right by ap­point­ing War­ren as captain. He is the right captain.”

Whether the Boks’ win over the French will prove to be a turn­ing point in South African rugby re­mains to be seen.

Ac­cord­ing to Meyer, Coet­zee and his team will still need to do a lot of hard work if they want to be suc­cess­ful in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

PHOTO: CHRIS­TI­AAN KOTZE / PHOTO24

IM­PRESSED For­mer Spring­bok coach Heyneke Meyer has hailed the squad’s show­ing

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