THE TIGHT 5
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. –