Con­ti­nu­ity key, as Boks rely on driv­ing maul

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - VATA NGOBENI

SPRING­BOK boss Al­lis­ter Coet­zee may have been se­ri­ous in his frank as­sess­ment that last year’s dis­as­trous sea­son was “dead and buried”, but the Spring­boks will still take out some­thing from that life­less car­cass to breathe new life into the se­ries against France.

As bad as the Spring­boks may have been last sea­son, with only four Tests won out of the 12 they played, as­sis­tant coach Jo­hann van Graan be­lieves they can still rely on the rolling maul along with their set-piece play as the cor­ner­stones to their am­bi­tions of win­ning the se­ries against the French.

“Firstly the past is in the past. What we do in the present will de­ter­mine our fu­ture. The bril­liant thing about the for­wards is that all of the guys who have been at the camp have been at the Spring­boks be­fore whether at Test match level or the dif­fer­ent camps,” Van Graan says. “So that con­ti­nu­ity helps a bit and we’ve changed one or two things, done a lot of re­search and fu­ture plan­ning look­ing ahead to the next three years up to the World Cup, but the most im­por­tant thing is Satur­day. I’m very pleased with play­ers in­di­vid­u­ally in Su­per Rugby, and some teams as a col­lec­tive have played some fan­tas­tic rugby. Af­ter this morn­ing’s (Tues­day) ses­sion – a nice unit ses­sion ––I’m happy with where we are with the scrum, li­ne­out and maul time but Satur­day is where it counts.”

How­ever, the por­ous per­for­mances by the Spring­boks would have cer­tainly clouded any of the good work they were able to pro­duce last year, and it is those rare but vis­i­ble ar­eas like the rolling maul that Van Graan wants the Spring­boks to mas­ter ahead of the open­ing Test.

The Spring­boks, along with lo­cal Su­per Rugby fran­chises, have in the past mas­tered the art of maul­ing and it was a strength of many suc­cess­ful teams in their years of world dom­i­nance.

As the Spring­boks limped from Test to Test last year they seem­ingly lost their way and their strengths, which led to the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of the driv­ing maul when they tried to em­ploy it.

The maul re­mains very much part of the Spring­boks’ ar­se­nal, ac­cord­ing to Van Graan, and they will rely on it to gain as­cen­dency over the French.

“Ja the driv­ing maul is a mas­sive part of South African rugby and world rugby. If you just look at what hap­pened in Su­per Rugby, all the teams use the drive at this stage. Last year we were the team that drove the third most, with Eng­land hav­ing driven the most li­ne­outs. It is a mas­sive part of the game and we have to adapt to ref­er­ees, and we have three south­ern hemi­sphere ref­er­ees with this in­com­ing tour.

We also know the French stop a maul pretty well and they also maul well. I guess we know what is com­ing, and we play against qual­ity op­po­si­tion and look for­ward to that bat­tle.”

Maybe the Spring­bok is not all “dead and buried” and there is still plenty of life in it, but the team of 2017 will have to learn from the near-fa­tal body blows they suf­fered, and also from the knowl­edge that comes from French-based play­ers like Duane Ver­meulen, Frans Steyn and Stephen Kitschoff in or­der to breathe back new life into their ail­ing team.

As un­pre­dictable as the French are, the Spring­boks will need to to re­sus­ci­tate their strengths, and it will start up front with the scrums, li­ne­outs and driv­ing mauls.

“I think per­cep­tion is what it is. If you look back at 2016 and you com­bine your scrum and li­ne­out per­cent­age, South Africa and France were num­ber one in the world with 95 per­cent,” Van Graan said. “They’ve got a very good scrum and a bril­liant li­ne­out and some very good move­ment. We are very lucky to have a lot of play­ers play­ing in France and we’ll use that knowl­edge to our ad­van­tage. But we are go­ing to fo­cus on our­selves and it is the start of a new jour­ney. We don’t have a lot of in­for­ma­tion on them bar the Six Na­tions. They will def­i­nitely come with one or two new things, but we’ve done our home­work, iden­ti­fied our strengths and we are go­ing to play to them.”

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