A perfect tonic in victory
Gone is the hangover of 2016, as long as Coetzee and Co attack to win
THE SPARKLING quality of some of the tries scored by the Springboks in their 37-14 win over France at the weekend are significant, not only because it showed an attacking intent that was lamentably lacking last season, but also because a positive foundation has been laid.
Confidence is a tonic that should never be underrated in sport and while the Boks wrestled for an hour against an under-strength French team at Loftus, they prevailed strongly in the end and on the way mirrored the brave approach of the Lions and the Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs? True, there was barely a Cheetah in sight at Loftus, Raymond Rhule and Oupa Mahoje being the exceptions, but the influence of their coach, Franco Smith (doubling as the Bok attack coach), was there to be seen in the width the Boks explored on attack.
It was a pleasing to see the Boks use that width of the field as early in the 17th minute, when a couple of clean, simple, long passes gave Rhule an early chance to stretch his legs. It was just one of those days when the ball did not seem to find Rhule’s wing partner, Courtnall Skosan, but hopefully the Lions man will have his chance in the next two Tests.
The Lions players provide the backbone of this Bok team, giving it structure and a positive approach, while Smith’s Cheetahs have entertained with their cavalier approach to the game (it is just a pity that their defence has been so poor).
In Super Rugby so far, the Lions have scored 64 tries (the third most of the 18 teams) and the Cheetahs 40 (10th highest) in a losing team.
The point is that the Boks have the ammunition in the playing ranks and on the coaching staff to build on their positive approach. And in Brendan Venter they have a shrewd coach in charge of defence that is the ideal support for the attack-minded Smith and who is a strong supporter of the way forward that Coetzee has entrusted to the Lions players.
Foremost in this approach is the eight, nine, 10 approach of Warren Whiteley, Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies.
The latter revelled at the weekend in the security and confidence he absorbed from his Lions teammates inside him.
Jantjies can be a South African approximate of a Beauden Barrett if he is given the freedom to play his game; his forwards are providing the front-foot ball; and the players outside him trust his abilities to put them into space.
Cronje clearly gave Jantjies the confidence to play his natural game against the French and the scrumhalf’s influence on that Springbok victory should not be underestimated. Cronje, in conjunction with Whiteley, read the game exceptionally well and if it had not been for the barn-storming performance of hooker Malcolm Marx, would have been the Man of the Match.
The Springboks are now in Durban preparing for the second Test against the Tricolours. They now have the belief that they can again score tries after the drought of 2016. They crucially have the inestimable tonic of confidence, and now they must press on with the approach of “attack to win”.
That might sound like stating the obvious but last year the Boks did not attack and hoped to defend and kick goals to scrape wins. That worked four times out of 12 Tests.
The more the Boks score tries this season, the more belief and confidence will be engendered, and that is why they must continue to go for broke in the second Test at Kings Park. They were miles away from being perfect against France but the errors will get fewer as the confidence grows.
Ask the All Blacks. They have no self-doubt and believe that every time they spread the ball they will score. They inevitably do when they have good, clean ball and attack space, and with success having come so often, they attack with arrogance. The wings are screaming for the ball. Julian Savea believes he will score just about every time he gets the ball.
This is what the Boks must aspire to. They have to set their sights high in 2017 and “attack to win” which, incidentally, was the title of South African cricketing great Barry Richards’s autobiography (by the way, I hope a consignment of that brilliant book will be distributed among the Proteas!).
Well, hopefully, the Springboks give South Africans something to cheer about on Saturday by “attacking to win”, by building on the foundations of Pretoria.
It is not rocket science; front-foot ball provided by the forwards, a WILLINGNESS to attack and then committed support for the ball carrier that is looking to offload as the defence encroaches.
In this regard, the Boks have taken baby steps after the horrors of 2016. Now let’s see them lengthen their stride.
ONE WING TO ‘RHULE’ THEM ALL: Raymond Rhule got a chance to stretch his legs in his Test debut against France this past weekend due to the new attackminded approach of the Springboks.