When the Boks de­cide to run, Aussies won’t see it com­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

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.

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