Boks benefit from kicking

The Springboks must kick more in the Rugby Championship than they did in the June Tests, writes MARK KEOHANE.

The South African rugby public – at least based on what I read on social media – appears clueless as to what constitutes good rugby.

There is an obsession with ineffective, side-to-side, multiple-phase running of the ball. There appears to be no appreciation for game management, for the nuances of Test rugby especially, and for the 100-plus year history of the game. Rugby union has always been about kick, run and pass. If you don’t want kicking, watch rugby league.

There is a skill to line-kicking, just as there is a skill to mauling. There is a beauty about an in-form Springbok team, as there is one about an in-form All Blacks team.

The two teams play differently and have different skills because of the culture of their game. It’s a bit like Germany and Brazil in soccer. Two different cultures and mentalities, and vastly different approaches. Yet they are historically the most successful teams in world soccer. Germany doesn’t, however, try to play like Brazil and the cultural make-up of the Brazilian side means they could never play with the structure and discipline of the Germans.

There has to be a greater appreciation for what makes South African rugby strong. There also needs to be more of an understanding of the history of South African rugby and lessons can be learned from when the Boks have been strong and dominant.

These times have been when the Bok set piece has been good, particularly the lineout, when there has been effectiveness and control in the gainline tackle, when the halfback line-kicking game has been astute and accurate, when the wing chasers have been active and aggressive, and when the confidence has been there to attack from turnover ball, regardless of field position.

The Springboks have never been a team that chases a game particularly well because that means they have to lose the structure that gives so many players comfort.

The Boks are at their most potent when they play the percentages, build early pressure, get points on the board through penalties and then feed off the opposition’s willingness to attack from anywhere on the field. It’s a brilliant blueprint when applied successfully, and there is nothing dull about this type of rugby.

The best Bok teams in the professional era have been characterised by their physicality, ability to defend and by their conditioning and fitness. They’ve also traditionally had a No 10 with an accurate goal- and line-kicking game and outside backs with pace.

In the past 18 months the All Blacks have played more South African rugby than we’ve seen from the Springboks and there’s been more of an attacking element to the Boks than the All Blacks.

I thought the Boks were tremendous in dismantling Scotland but there is context to the game. It was an ordinary Scottish team and the occasion allowed for more expression with ball in hand.

The All Blacks, in the past two Rugby Championships, kicked the ball more than any other team. They also kicked it more effectively and with a clear purpose, and they won 12 successive Tests in claiming back-to-back Rugby Championship titles.

If the Springboks are to beat Australia and New Zealand, they have to play with greater balance than in the June internationals. There has to be more appreciation for field position and for the need to play percentages and lower the risk in approach. When you have a pack as good as South Africa’s, you can play this type of game.

Risk and all-out attack is an approach of teams whose first-phase game is suspect. The Springboks, especially with Victor Matfield back at No 5 lock, don’t want for anything when it comes to the set piece. The Bok lineout, with Matfield supreme, will again become an attacking option from which to launch those monster bombs on the opposition back three.

Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez’s unavailability because of injury means the Boks’ kicking game will be a work in progress, but after 76 Test appearances I’d like to believe this is the season Ruan Pienaar plays more like the master than the apprentice.

Flyhalf Morné Steyn’s game management will also be critical to any Bok success and so much will depend on his decision-making regarding when to kick and why he has kicked.

Line-kicking, like mauling, is a South African rugby strength that needs to be applauded when done well … not derided.

– This column first appeared in the August issue of SA Rugby magazine

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix