The Springboks are unlikely to move away from their rigid game plan against Wales but they have to try to mix it up a bit for Sunday’s World Cup semi-final, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Faf de Klerk’s left foot has worked overtime in Japan, with his box kicks becoming the bane of many Springbok supporters’ lives. Once he does that little ballet plie before he kicks, half the country’s blood pressure shoots up to stroke levels.
All three Bok scrumhalves have actually kicked a lot at this World Cup, because the box kick is a big part of Rassie Eramus’ plan. But De Klerk has kicked a lot more, because he has played in the matches where the Springboks had almost no interest in varying their game to attack with ball in hand or kick using their flyhalf.
Cobus Reinach and Herschel Jantjies have featured in the matches where the Boks let their hair down a bit against tier-two teams. In those matches they also initially kicked a lot, until it started raining tries – which was quite early – and they played their natural game.
The box kick is not something that comes natural to De Klerk. He’s had to work hard on that part of his game after making his name with the Lions as an all-action No 9, who is dangerous around the fringes and gets to the rucks quickly and cleans efficiently. He is also a robust scrumhalf, who fights way above his weight class in the tackle and who has won many games for South Africa with his wonderful anticipation on defence.
He only started sharpening up his tactical kicking when he went to play for the Sale Sharks in England. It’s now a lot better than what it was a few years ago, but probably still not at a level where it can be used as a primary weapon to beat Wales and the All Blacks/England over the next two weeks to win the World Cup.
De Klerk’s kicking wasn’t great in the first half against Japan, especially when Tendai Mtawarira was off the field with a yellow card. The Boks had to defend for their lives at that point, and it took some desperate tackles to keep out the Japanese, who had time and space to counter-attack.
In the second half, De Klerk’s kicking was much better, as he pinned the Japanese down in their half, before the powerful Springbok pack started to pound them into the submission at set-piece time. It was slow poison, like the caramel vodka that only hits you in the dying moments of the party.
But is that going to be enough to beat Wales this weekend? Is a kick-and-hope strategy going to work when the packs of forwards are well matched?
De Klerk can’t afford to be off the mark with his box kicks this weekend, especially as this Wales team are very good in the air. Accuracy is key in a World Cup playoff against the best, and one short box kick could spell doom on the scoreboard for the Boks.
The Boks have to explore the option of also playing off No 1o, and not just off De Klerk or fullback Willie le Roux, who has also been rather poor during the World Cup.
If you look at what England and New Zealand bring to the table, in terms of their all-round game, then the Boks, in theory, don’t stand a chance of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy. They play direct rugby, have great forwards and possess flyhalves who dictate with wonderful distribution and accurate tactical and attacking kicking.
Both teams have that extra little gear, a ‘Plan B’ of sorts, to try to beat the opposition. They don’t have a rigid plan. They play what’s in front of them, whether it’s to truck it up, spread it wide or kick for territory. Both sides then work proactively to execute the strategy masterfully.
No 10 Handre Pollard has pretty much been neutered by the Boks’ game plan of solely playing off his service provider. At the moment, it looks like he is just in the team to kick for poles and to defend. He hasn’t been able to put his stamp on this World Cup as a general.
Le Roux is supposed to be the Boks’ creative force in the back division, but is struggling for confidence and form.
So, rest assured, De Klerk’s left foot is receiving the best pampering treatment money can buy in Japan. It’s probably soaking in some sort of ancient Japanese rejuvenation oil before resting on a pillow with goose feathers probably more expensive than a K-Way jacket. There’s no way the Boks are going to move away from this system at the World Cup.
But they need to try to be less predictable in the way they go about their business. For the sake of our collective blood pressures.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets