A change in personnel and mindset – particularly in the back row – will improve the Springboks’ chances of rebounding against France, writes JON CARDINELLI.
On Tuesday morning, a clip featuring Bok head coach Rassie Erasmus, defence coach Jacques Nienaber and centre André Esterhuizen was posted on social media. In the clip, which was apparently taken during a training session in Paris on Monday, Erasmus and Nienaber instructed Esterhuizen to shoulder-charge a tackle bag, much like Owen Farrell had shoulder-charged Esterhuizen in the dying seconds of the Boks’ 12-11 loss to England at Twickenham.
Clearly the Boks are still hurting. Immediately after the game, Erasmus sarcastically suggested that the Boks should adopt Farrell’s tackling style in future. If the England captain could escape a sanction for that type of tackle, surely the Boks could get away with similar hits in the coming weeks?
Erasmus made his point again when he had someone take a clip of a ‘tackling drill’ at the training session in Paris on Monday.
The Boks have every right to be angry in the wake of that Test. The officials let them and – if one considers the precedent that’s been set in recent months – the game down.
They should also be angry at themselves, though, for blowing such a great opportunity to win at the Home of Rugby and make another statement regarding their improvement. As things stand, the Boks have won five out of 11 Tests in 2018, and are in danger of finishing the year with a win-record of less than 50%.
So while we should applaud Erasmus and company for sending a not-so-subtle message to World Rugby, we should also recognise that this Bok side let themselves down at Twickenham. They have to make changes – in terms of personnel and in terms of their mindset – to have any chance of bouncing back against France this weekend.
Malcolm Marx had a shocker at the lineout, and was not at his disruptive best at the breakdowns. Will Marx make way for Bongi Mbonambi this week, though? The Western Province hooker was subbed early in the recent Currie Cup final due to his inability to find his jumpers.
The Boks have to find a solution to their set-piece struggles, and fast. While they clearly have the ability to set a maul and win the collisions – England really battled to keep them at bay in these areas – their basic skills are letting them down.
The backs must also be held accountable. How many times did a Bok player drop the ball or lose possession in a tackle after breaching the gainline last Saturday? Failure to protect possession compromised their ability to build momentum, score points and take the game away from the opposition.
The Boks dominated at the scrum, mauls and collisions. Where they were consistently outplayed – and this also stifled their momentum – was at the breakdowns. Neither Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen nor Warren Whiteley appeared completely sure of their roles, which was to be expected since it was a brand new combination and Vermeulen had not been with the Boks since June.
If Franco Mostert was available for the clash against England, Erasmus may have started him at lock and kept Pieter-Steph du Toit in the back row – alongside Kolisi and Vermeulen. Now that Mostert is back with the Boks, and now that Lood de Jager has shaken off the rust, Erasmus should have the freedom to persist with his strongest back-row combination.
Another option is to start Kolisi, the returning Francois Louw, and Vermeulen in the loose trio. This combination enjoyed some success in the win against France in Paris last year.
What we know about the French is that they enjoy a scrap at the breakdowns and collisions. They go out of their way to spoil and stifle an opponent at the rucks. This is why the performance of the forwards, especially those tasked with cleaning, will be game-shaping. The Boks need to win the races to the breakdowns this Saturday to ensure they secure possession and generate quick ball with which to attack or kick in subsequent phases.
It wouldn’t surprise to see Erasmus rushing scrumhalf Faf de Klerk straight into the starting side. Willie le Roux could also be utilised at fullback this week.
As mentioned, the Boks are under pressure to produce a positive result after the loss at Twickenham. It’s for this reason that Erasmus may revert to his more experienced players and place his plans to experiment with the youngsters on the back burner.
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