When the Boks decide to run, Aussies won’t see it coming
THE stage is nearly set for the Springboks to deliver the perfect riposte to those groaning Australian and New Zealand media people who are accusing them of having an over-reliance on their kicking game.
The basics of rugby always remain the same, and a look at the World Cup winners roll since 1987 shows that few teams succeed without a strong kicking game.
But trends change all the time, and there is always a place for the element of surprise.
If the All Blacks and Australia are duped into thinking that the Springboks are going to kick every ball back at them, what is going to happen on the day the Boks don’t do that, and run instead?
Astute coaches are starting to notice that the heavy reliance on kicking by most teams, definitely not just the Boks, is starting to impact on how opposition teams chase the kicks in certain instances.
When a kicker has a go at the posts and misses, it might be a lot more on for the defending team to run it back than many people think.
This is because the kicking team expects the defending side to kick back – and hence they are not committing that many chasers when they kick for goal.
Stor mers coach Rassie Erasmus figured this out long ago, which was why his team ran a missed Sharks penalty attempt back at them in the opening match of this year’s Super 14.
Likewise, imagine how the Aussies will react if the Boks try to run from a lineout in their own 22.
They will probably all fall over in surprise, and the net result could be a long range try that shuts the Aussie media up (if that is at all possible).
The successful teams are the ones that play to their strengths, and the Boks have been doing that this season.
Reading Peter de Villiers’ comments in Perth, and his reasoning about why the Boks are kicking so much, makes one almost wonder whether someone else has taken possession of his body.
He does seem to be a different man to the one who told a Western Province screening committee when he applied for the Stor mers job two years ago that he doesn’t believe in structure and thinks rugby should be played on the hoof.
That philosophy can never survive at international level – not now or ever – and if he has recognised it, full marks to him for doing so.
But there will come a time when the Boks will hurt an opponent by running from a position where their opponents won’t be expecting them to.
it happens, they must make it count, for once the element of surprise has gone it will be less effective if tried again.
As the Boks discovered last year, a team that tries to run all the time is as predictable as one that tries to kick all the time – and maybe, as the Boks discovered against the suicidal All Blacks, also a lot easier to play against.
Why I say the stage is “nearly” set for the Boks to surprise the Aussies is because the selection of Ruan Pienaar at fullback is sure to put the Wallabies on their guard for Frans Steyn was a big part of the successful Bok kicking game in the home leg – and the argument that it was because Steyn is going to France doesn't wash if you consider that Ireland-bound Jean de Villiers was selected.
Questions about the wisdom of Pienaar's selection have nothing to do with Pienaar’s ability.
If there is a player capable of playing anywhere in the backline, Pienaar is it.
The problem is the omission of Steyn, who with the length of his field kicks and sheer size of him had far more to do with the Bok success at home this season than many realise.
Those who reckon Pienaar will run everything back today are forgetting that in his first Test match at flyhalf in Cardiff he kicked everything.
He did so because he was under instructions from John Smit, and the captain is sure to have a word in his ear about the necessity to err on the side of caution.
But while I am comfortable with the idea of Pienaar at fullback, or would be if there was no Steyn, there is a nagging voice reminding of the folly of trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
Apart from which there also has to be a time when the Pienaar positional merry-goround must stop.
If you say that you want him to specialise at flyhalf, then let him specialise at flyhalf, and make the difficult call that might be necessary at No 10.
In that regard the coach did well with the other big call he had to make this week – leaving Schalk Burger on the bench could not have been easy, but it was definitely the right decision.