Boks search for ‘smarter, improved’ execution

Springbok assistant coach Deon Davids says continuity in selection will be an important consideration this week, but has not ruled out the possibility of a couple of tactical team changes. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

Following the Boks’ defeat by the British & Irish Lions this past Saturday, plenty of attention will inevitably shift to this week’s team announcement, and whether the national coaches consider a couple of changes.

As it stands, the Springbok squad announcement is scheduled for Wednesday, although last week the team release was moved to a day earlier.

After another opportunity for players to bank some valuable game time on Saturday, a case could be made for the Boks to return to a six-two forwards-to-backs split on the bench, particularly considering the hosts didn’t have it all their own way in the forward exchanges in the first Test.

This could potentially open the door for someone like Jasper Wiese to come on to the bench, or possibly for him to start at No 8, with Kwagga Smith then providing an impact option as a super sub.

It will also be interesting to see whether the Boks stick with the same starting front row, or indeed persist with the similar ploy of making a full front-row change around the halfway mark.

Many onlookers questioned why Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane were all replaced at the break after shining in the first half on Saturday, but Davids explained that there were extenuating circumstances – and not just tactics – that influenced that decision.

“I think we actually have to say congrats to Ox, Bongi and Trevor, they were exceptional in the first half. But we did have a few injury niggles at half time – Ox had a neck injury, Bongi had a hamstring complaint.

“There were all those things in mind and so the coaching staff decided the best thing in that situation was to change the front row at half time. Those players also really emptied the tank in the first half, and although they would have liked to continue, circumstances led to that decision, and so I think it was the correct one in that context.”

Davids added that players were still undergoing injury assessments and that further clarity would be provided by Tuesday to determine if the Boks had a fully fit squad to select from.

“Continuity in performance and in our selection is an important thing and that will be a big consideration. But, also, we will look at where we can be better, and we have to assess it against a background of looking at our systems, our skills, the effort of players.

“Based on that, collectively we will then make a call for this week and what players will fit that scenario best. Obviously, in terms of the front row, know we have world-class players such as Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and Malcolm Marx, and we know what contributions they can bring from the bench. They were also impacted by the Covid-19 setback we had recently, and had to adapt in terms of their preparation.

“Then also look at Ox, Trevor and Bongi, all six of them are world class. Ox has come in and done so well, it shows the depth we have. So going forward it will be important that we ensure all are involved and get that game time behind them to excel and contribute towards a better performance.”

When taking a broader look at the Springboks’ overall performance, Davids said the post-match analysis had been extremely insightful and beneficial.

“As a coaching staff, we looked at both the collective and individuals to see what we need to fix. We did have some good outcomes, especially in the first half when it came to our tactical and technical execution. But we couldn’t keep that going for an 80-minute performance.

“We identified different areas in terms of our kicking game, discipline, and also better execution with the set pieces, and in terms of improving our decision-making. We’ve had thorough discussions among coaches and players, and are looking forward to this week to correct mistakes.”

With the Lions employing a clear strategy to bombard the Boks with contestable kicks rather than set up lineouts, Davids said they had also realised the importance of improving their accuracy in contending with the different threats posed.

“The Lions were smart in terms of not giving us lineouts, and ensuring we had to field high balls, and they then put us under pressure. When we did have lineouts, it’s one thing to win it, but you need a solid platform to execute and play towards our plan. When one things goes wrong from the set piece, it can have a ripple effect.

“The Lions did challenge us in those areas, they were very streetsmart, and so we have to handle it better and come up with solutions … We want to be smarter, and have better execution in order to get into good places on the field and use opportunities more effectively to get the result we want.”

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Craig Lewis