There was no dramatic shift in the Springboks' attacking game plan in the Castle Rugby Championship opener. No departure to an expansive method. Nothing about it suggested the Springboks have the capacity to match the All Blacks on attack. But there's lots to be optimistic about, writes RYAN VREDE.
The Springboks were excellent against Argentina, running in nine tries in their 73-13 victory. However, the assessment of the performance, particularly from an attacking point of view, demands perspective. The post-match analysis from some of the country's major media platforms has been misleading. From the postings on various social media networks, it appears that ill-informed analysis has been bought.
There has been an impression created that the Springboks have adopted a new, enterprising approach that features none of the conservatism that marked their performances in 2012. Nonsense. Firstly, there needs to be an appreciation of the calibre of their opponents. The Pumas were missing a couple of key players, which undoubtedly benefited the Springboks. Argentina's defensive effort started out well, but faded badly as the match wore on. Early in the second half their resolve had clearly been eroded, allowing the Springboks to run rampant.
More importantly, one needs to understand Heyneke Meyer has never valued a pragmatic, kick-heavy approach over a more ball-in-hand one. So there is no major transition, just evidence of improvement in the designated task.
Meyer, in my professional association with him, has always held firm that if the situation allowed it (a numbers advantage out wide or backs versus forwards scenario, for example), his teams should have a crack at it. To get to a point where his players are assessing the situation, making the right decisions under pressure and then executing the play was always the vision. This is where our optimism should have its root, not in a perceived razzle-dazzle game plan.
The quality of that assessment, decision-making and execution was good at the Calabash. Furthermore, how clinical the Springboks were on attack with the wealth of possession they enjoyed over 80 minutes deserves praise. There were games in last year's Rugby Championship campaign where they enjoyed similar levels of possession and territory, only to undermine their cause through imprecision.
The very least the South African rugby fraternity have the right to demand this season is progress and improvement on their 2012 showings. Compare Saturday's performance at Soccer City to the same fixture at Newlands last year – where the Springboks stuttered to a three-try 27-6 victory over Argentina – and you would be hard-pressed to build an argument that that improvement was not evident.
Meyer's Bulls teams took time to evolve into the formidable attacking units they were in their pomp, and it appears that the Springboks are moving down a similarly encouraging path. Of course, New Zealand and Australia will pose considerably sterner challenges, with the Springboks' space and time cut down in a manner of which Argentina weren't capable. How they respond to those challenges will be a truer measure of any attacking improvement. But on the evidence of their showing in Johannesburg, the Springboks seem to be on the right course.
They will kick often against the All Blacks and Wallabies. Territory will still rule in those Tests, and rightly so. That doesn't mean Meyer is scared of those opponents or that he will be shackling his charges' attacking gifts. It certainly won't be a tactical regression because there hasn't been a tactical progression – only an improvement on a pre-existing aspect of their method.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images
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