THE TIGHT 5

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - MIKE GREEN­AWAY

How does a team go from los­ing 57-15 to the All Blacks at Kings Park in Oc­to­ber last year to beat­ing a strength­ened France 37-15 at the same venue, a week af­ter beat­ing the French 37-14?

Get with the pro­gram

The sad­dest thing about the Spring­boks in 2016 was watch­ing hu­mil­i­ated play­ers clue­lessly stum­bling about the field. No plan, no idea, no­body tak­ing charge. The play­ers lit­er­ally did not know what they were do­ing. There was no firm di­rec­tion given to the play­ers on how to play and the com­po­si­tion of the team had no one Su­per Rugby fran­chise overly dom­i­nant. The Boks were a bits-and-pieces side and they could not make the pieces of the puzzle fit. This year, the team is dom­i­nated by the Li­ons, and the Boks play like the Li­ons. Prob­lem solved. Sim­ple.

Shore up the de­fence

One of the old­est clichés in rugby is that you judge the morale of a team by the way they tackle. In 2016, play­ers made their one-on-one tack­les, as you would ex­pect from a Spring­bok, but that is where it ended. There was no en­ergy on de­fence be­cause — in terms of morale — the play­ers were run­ning on empty and frankly were too dis­heart­ened to spring up af­ter a tackle and rush back into the line, ready to make another tackle. De­fence coach Bren­dan Ven­ter has sorted the tech­ni­cal as­pects out on de­fence but the most vi­tal key to the dra­mat­i­cally im­proved de­fence is that the play­ers are de­fend­ing for each other, be­cause they care.

A happy team is a win­ning team

No­body likes los­ing. Last year the Boks were a des­per­ately un­happy squad. They had to en­dure the ridicule on so­cial me­dia, the end­less jokes that cir­cu­lated on What­sApp. In sport los­ing is a habit as much as win­ning is, but you will not break the los­ing habit un­til you have a smile on the dial, and you have all 23 play­ers pulling in the same di­rec­tion. When the game be­comes en­joy­able again — be­cause ev­ery­body is on the same page — you will break the los­ing se­quence sooner rather than later. In the sec­ond Test against France, one episode said it all. The Spring­bok pack stood mirac­u­lously firm on their line in de­fend­ing the French rum­ble to­wards the line. Last year, the Boks would not have both­ered.

Key play­ers in form

Is the El­ton Jan­tjies of 2016 (in a Bok jersey) the same Jan­tjies that has run the show with aplomb in this se­ries against France? They look the same but ... you get the point. They are dif­fer­ent play­ers in the top six inches of the head. An in­di­ca­tion of the confidence in the fly­half is that in two Tests he has been suc­cess­ful with 11 out of 12 kicks at goal. He runs the show with the Boks in the same man­ner that he has been run­ning the Li­ons all sea­son. Rugby is not rocket sci­ence. Build a team around the form play­ers from the form team in your coun­try — whether it is North­ern Transvaal, West­ern Prov­ince or Na­tal — and let their stars play to their strengths.

Lead­ing from the front

Con­tin­u­ing with the Li­ons theme, to a de­gree, War­ren White­ley is the per­fect cap­tain for a re­build­ing Bok team that needs a strong and ex­u­ber­ant leader. With re­spect to Adri­aan Strauss, he was out of form last year and was too in­tro­verted to grab a team in dis­ar­ray by the scruff of its neck. White­ley,

pic­tured, has a na­trual ebul­lience about him that rubs off on his team­mates. He is a pos­i­tive, cheer­ful soul, he is the best player in his po­si­tion in the coun­try and he is the cat­a­lyst for the way the Li­ons play. And there­fore the clas­sic, rangy No 8 is the ob­vi­ous cat­a­lyst for how the Boks must play now that they have adopted the play­ing style of our best per­form­ing fran­chise. –

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