Nick Mallett

‘We have to question Bok selections’

Warrick Gelant started on the wing Warrick Gelant started on the wing

What NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the Springboks' 24-22 defeat against Wales in Cardiff.

'I think it was a missed opportunity for the Boks in Cardiff against a weak Welsh team. I know they’ll say that the Boks were also missing players, but South Africa have a far greater strength in depth than Wales. It’s a very disappointing loss and it brings it now to seven wins out of 13, which is a 53% win record this year, to add on to the 33% of last year; which makes it an overall win percentage of 44%. It has been quite disappointing over these past two years.

'If we think of this game in totality and look at the way Wales played, they created many more opportunities than we did. They played good rugby on the front foot and they tried to speed the game up. Our aerial skills were shocking. We really were hopeless under the high ball and missed too many opportunities there. Their kicks always seemed to find space.

'You can’t give a team 14 points straight off the bat in the first 15 minutes from poor defensive positional play when playing away from home. It’s a big start in a game like this. We fought our way back and got ahead at one point but unfortunately we weren’t able to finish it off.

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'We did say the Boks have to dominate the scrum to win the game and they did throughout the game. We were pretty dominate in the set piece. Our lineout was good and the driving maul was fine. We played off No 9 a lot with our forwards.

'I thought it cried out for some changes in that backline. I thought at half-time they could have looked at the game and said Warrick Gelant deserves at least 40 minutes in his proper position at fullback. Dillyn Leyds had a good game on the wing, so keep him there, Jesse Kriel has played wing before so he could have been moved to that position and brought Lukhanyo Am on at [outside] centre as early as possible. Handré Pollard should have been kept on the field and the replacement scrumhalf [Louis Schreuder] should have got 20 minutes because after an hour any starting scrumhalf has run a lot and the team gets more momentum out of the replacement No 9. So those are the changes I would have made.

'What I noticed is that when we kept the ball in hand, we made yards. It was just a question of having confidence to keep possession, pass accurately and make good decisions. The Welsh are actually not a physical side in terms of their defence.

'I think when you saw Gelant and our backline play particularly in that counter-attack when we scored a try, it showed our players have an understanding of using the ball in their hands. They don’t seek physical contact, they seek to commit a tackler and pass and if the defender is not committed they break the line.

'The positives out of this game were Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx’s performances and our general tight forward play. But our ability to create opportunities left much to be desired. There must have been at least six or seven scoring opportunities for Wales and two or three for South Africa. We just didn’t create enough chances.

'We were only two points behind, so a drop goal or a penalty could have won us the game. There needs to be some sort of intelligence and leadership in our ranks.

'I thought again there was a missed opportunity in the leadership situation. Warren Whiteley is acknowledged as being the best captain of a franchise team in South Africa and he was outstanding when he captained the Springboks. When he got injured, Siya Kolisi, who is another franchise captain, was playing well enough to take over. I know there was a feeling that Kolisi had to nail down his place in the team first, but the form that he was showing would warrant having a look at him as captain in the interim until Warren came back. But least the Bok captaincy would have been given to a man who captains his franchise.

'And this is by no means a criticism of Eben Etzebeth, who is a great guy. But if you look at their personalities, Etzebeth is known for his physicality and ability to get stuck into the faces of the opposition. But you need be withdrawn from the impact situation to make clear decisions as the captain on the field. He also doesn’t look like someone who enjoys picking someone up off the ground or congratulating and motivating the people around him. Whereas Siya seems to thrive on that. He seems to play better when given an opportunity to encourage the players around him. I think he would have done a great job for the Springboks.

'When one looks at transformation and the issue of having 10,000 people at Newlands in All Blacks shirts, having Kolisi as Bok captain might turn a few heads and they will say South African rugby is going in the right direction in terms of what they want to do for the nation.

'What South African rugby needs to ask itself in this period between the end of this tour and the start of next season, is what is the progress that has been made between 2016 and 2017?

'We could argue more wins in 2017, but then you’ve got to argue the teams we beat. We beat France four times, but we have to realise that they are at a very low ebb at the moment. We beat Argentina twice and they are also at a low ebb. And we beat Italy, and with the greatest respect to the Italians, they are not even in the top 10 ranked teams in the world.

'So we haven’t beaten a team ranked above us this year and we lost badly to the All Blacks and Ireland away. So our progress was limited.'

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'We’ve also got to ask questions about selection. Because when you think of a team and the way it plays, you’ve got to select in a way that’ll give you an ability to win. Certain selections haven’t been good this year. The persistence with Damian de Allende when he hasn’t played well, the issue of Gelant playing wing when he should have been fullback, and picking Francois Hougaard on the wing last year when we had a lot of players excelling in that position. There are a lot more questionable selections that we’ve seen over the past two years. There are changes to be made with Rassie Erasmus coming back as director of rugby, he is going to have to take a lot of responsibility for what happens from now on.

'The one thing I think is very important, is that the coach has to have direct contact with the players, and the media has to have direct contact with the person responsible for the team. So if Rassie is going to be involved in whatever way and he is responsible for the team, then the media must have access to him to ask the questions about selection and about the way the team is playing because he will be the ultimate person accountable for the Springboks’ performances.

'So for now, the questions that need to be asked are: What is the progress we’ve made? Can we continue with selections that have been a bit confusing? What is the official role Rassie is coming back in? And if we are to use his coaching expertise, then he has to accept as well that there are media responsibilities and selection responsibilities that he has to answer for as the head of our national team.

'We are not near the three best teams at the moment. We are languishing in fifth place. What became evident in this Test window, is that England have progressed enormously and are definitely the biggest challenge in world rugby after the All Blacks. So we have New Zealand, England and Ireland as the top three ranked sides, Scotland are doing really well and racing up the rankings, then there’s Australia who actually beat Wales but then lost badly in the next two games. So we are somewhere behind Wales and Australia and then behind us, we get Argentina and France, etc.

'The Springboks are nowhere near the top table and that’s what we’ve got to worry about. With our tradition of rugby and talent, South Africa should be right up there competing for first or second place. We ought to be performing better than we are at the moment.

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'What was worrying was that despite the little progress this year, we had these shocking losses. After weeks of "excellent training and the team looking forward to the game" – as we’ve been told – we lost 57-0 to the All Blacks and 38-3 to Ireland. Those were big humiliating defeats and they were big shocks to the public, who don’t expect their team to capitulate in that way.

'Unfortunately, the pressure is incredibly intense in the job as Bok coach. I’ve been there, I know exactly what it feels like. And as the pressure increases, you start making decisions in survival mode. And you tend to make conservative decisions. With Allister Coetzee, I think he thought this tour was an opportunity to rescue this year for the team and save his job. We expected the game against Ireland to be really close, with a points difference in the region of six or seven points. Then to beat Italy, France and Wales. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

'After two years, you can make a proper judgement on whether or not this team can make the semi-finals of the World Cup. There are good enough players in South Africa and if we have the right coaching staff we’ll be able to get better performances.

Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

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