Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and captain Siya Kolisi are unfazed by critics who have said that South Africa play ‘boring rugby’. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Earlier this week, New Zealand head coach Ian Foster spoke to reporters the day after South Africa levelled a three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions, and said the match “put me to sleep”.
Plenty of media coverage from the UK media corps has also been far from complimentary about the Boks’ kick-oriented, forward-based approach.
On Friday, Stick candidly told an online news conference that criticism of South Africa’s style of play is unfair, particularly so from Foster since the All Blacks employed the exact same tactics in the only game they won in their series against the British & Irish Lions four years ago.
“It’s not a secret, we’ve always spoken about how massive it [the aerial battle] is going to be in this series. Even if you go back to 2017 when they played the All Blacks, it was very massive,” Stick said.
“And it’s funny when some coaches are all of a sudden saying the Springboks are playing boring rugby because of the kicking, but if you go back to that 2017 series there was a game the All Blacks had more than 30 kicks in general play and that was the game they won.
“Kicking is part of the game, unless the rules have changed that we don’t know about? Maybe there are new rules that we are not allowed to kick?”
Throughout the week there’s also been talk from the Lions camp that they would like to play a fast-paced game, but fear that the Springboks would deliberately slow the game down, which many believe they did successfully in the second Test.
When asked if that is a fair assessment of the Boks’ tactics, Stick said: “If the Lions want to play touch rugby, geez, that would be nice for us. We are not going to decide what they must do, and they’re not going to tell us how to play our game. We’ll play according to our strengths.
“I’m not too sure about when you say we were slowing the game down. The person in charge of the whistle is the ref and when there are TMO calls and the officials need more time to make decisions according to what they see on the screen, that’s got nothing to do with us.
“When the ball is in play, all our players make sure they give their best. I don’t recall one of our players doing anything intentionally to slow play down. People must understand that these days TMOs are part of the game, so if it takes two minutes to make a decision then they needed two minutes to do so. That’s not in our control. If the Lions want to lift the tempo up, that’s their prerogative. If we want to slow the ball down and make it boring, we’ll do that since people are saying we’re playing boring rugby.
“Lions talking about a lot about tempo and wanting to avoid any niggle, any handbags. They think it was a tactic Boks used in the second Test to slow the game down. Is that a far assessment, if that part of how you impose yourself on the opposition?”
On his part, Kolisi spoke candidly when asked if the widespread criticism of South Africa’s playing style, especially coming out of New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, is in some way disrespectful to the world champions.
“Not at all. That’s who we are, we can’t run away from that. We’re South Africans and that style of play works for us. Other teams commenting on our game, would be a bit like us complaining about the style of another team that is winning,” Kolisi explained.
“We can’t change who we are. We play what’s in front of us, so whatever is happening in the game, we’ll be involved. Even if there’s niggle, we’re going to be involved. We can’t leave a man behind, that’s what we believe in.
“Our gameplan doesn’t change, we’re focused on what we do. We’re going to play the same way we did last week.”
Photo: Steve Haag