The Springboks can expect an aerial bombardment and all-out attack at the set piece from England, writes BRENDAN VENTER.
Barring the handsome appearance fee which SA Rugby pocketed – reportedly R9-million – the duel in Washington DC was a mistake. Assembling a squad comprising 13 debutants, flying them halfway across the world and then expecting them to play a good brand of rugby was never going to happen.
Robert du Preez’s late charged-down kick resulted in a narrow win for Wales. However, he is the one player who can absolutely not take any blame. The coaching staff could not have put him in a more compromised position by sending him on with five minutes to play in difficult game conditions. Elton Jantjies was one of the only senior players in the team and should have stayed on the field to see out the victory. It was wrong to introduce a Test debutant at that stage and amounts to a tactical error.
On the upside, there is nothing to read into the one-off match against Wales, with the England series now in sharp focus. The pipe-opener against England at Ellis Park on Saturday is going to be a proper Test match. England are coming off the back of four losses, they have been beset by injury and have limited squad depth but – we should make no bones about it – their starting team is extremely strong.
Eddie Jones has built his whole dynasty on the Saracens style of play – a conservative approach underpinned by kicking for territory, driving the lineouts, contesting high balls and defending well.
The English will be quietly confident that they can attain a positive result from the first Test on the highveld. They possess cerebral coaches in Jones, Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard, and will target South Africa’s inexperienced tight five at set piece.
Meanwhile, the largely green back four – Willie le Roux is the only player with genuine Test experience – can expect an aerial bombardment. I foresee England scrumhalf Ben Youngs bombarding debutant wingers Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi with high balls, along with outside centre Lukhanyo Am. The one Test-capped Bok has been tipped to start ahead of Jesse Kriel. For me, Kriel is hands down the best No 13 in the country. Am has played well this season, but in their head-to-head battles in Super Rugby, Kriel has outplayed him.
If the hosts can weather the aerial bombardment, they are in with a shout. However, at set phase the Boks are potentially at their weakest, not because of poor personnel, but owing to inexperienced players. Looking to exploit South Africa’s lineout will be England’s main game. It’s so relevant that, if I was in the Bok camp, I would even consider telling the players not to kick the ball out because the lineout will be at risk.
RG Snyman has been mooted to start the opening Test, but not playing Pieter-Steph du Toit from the outset would be a big mistake. There is no way that you can even compare Du Toit and Synman as lineout forwards. The latter doesn’t even call the lineouts at franchise level. I’m hoping Rassie would have said to Du Toit: ‘Lead the team in America, come back and do the lineouts again.’ Du Toit and Franco Mostert starting makes sense, with Snyman coming off the bench.
By all accounts, the three-Test series will be a battle of the conservative coaches because, like Jones, Rassie Erasmus also favours the ‘suffocate and strangle’ game strategy. Expecting Rassie to meet transformation targets, win matches and play a good brand of rugby from the start is unbelievably unfair. In the infancy of his Springbok coaching tenure, people must back off in terms of the style of play he chooses to employ, provided the team is winning. The bottom line is that Rassie should win in whatever way he thinks he can – be it box kicks or driven lineouts. If the Springboks box clever, they can win the opening Test, but this fixture will be a tough one for an inexperienced Bok side, who will be without Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn.
– Venter is currently working at his medical practice in the Strand. He has coached with Italy, the Springboks, London Irish, the Sharks, the Stormers and Saracens. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanVenter.
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