Jake White says the Springboks have become “too rigid” in how they play, with the world champions then running the risk of being found out by “the No 1 team in the world”, France.
The 2007 World-Cup winning coach took flak from Bok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick last week for suggesting Jacques Nienaber should’ve just selected a Springbok side capable of winning every Test of the series against Wales, rather than experimenting.
Now, in his latest column for Rugby Pass, White applauds the Boks’ 2-1 triumph over the Welsh in the Republic but argues that the South Africans’ strategies need some tweaking for the Rugby Championship and end-of-year tour.
“At the moment, I’d say France are the No 1 team in the world, even if they’re not official No 1. They’ve won their last 10 Tests in a row, which is pretty impressive, and they have a massive pack which means they can play it both ways – with natural flair and raw power,” he writes.
“It makes you think Les Bleus have the tools to stop the Springboks’ mauling and set-piece game which is predictable but effective.
“Look at the third Test [against Wales]. It was a picture of how the Boks play in a microcosm. Wales would be on the attack in the 22. When they lost a lineout it would be a scrum for South Africa.
“They would then invariably win a penalty, hoof the ball to the halfway line and then win a maul penalty, before kicking the ball into the 22 where they’d switch to attack mode without doing too much. That’s a 60m gain.
“Now, if a side can stop them doing that – and there are sides who can – I’m not sure if that will be enough if the Boks don’t have other ways to win the game.
“Tied into that is talk about the Boks’ creative game and whether they can do more. I’d say the structure is pretty rigid. They kick the ball, and if they get it back, switch on to see if they can create something.
“That’s where players like Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi come into play. The duo thrive in broken-field play when a defence is disorganised but we don’t see too much of them because all sides have massively improved in the air. Individuals work so, so hard at it in training.
“The way South Africa plays actually keeps other sides in the game. You seldom see them running away on the scoreboard. They squeeze, squeeze and squeeze until you can no longer withstand the physical onslaught, whereas when Ireland got to 22-3 up by the break [against New Zealand], I just knew they were never going to lose that game, in what was a stunning series victory.”
White believes the “true benchmark” of the Boks’ progression towards the 2023 World Cup will be to play France, Ireland and England later this year, as it will also indicate which players Nienaber will take to the tournament, including some shock returns.
“Nienaber said the second Test was a trial for who goes to Europe but I expect a few old faces to be in the mix for the end-of-year Tests. Cobus Reinach will be brought back in alongside Duane Vermeulen, who has definitely been missed, and RG Snyman,” he writes.
“There is another guy who could surprise people: Johan Goosen. He is at the Bulls and though he’s been injured, after watching the current 10s, I feel he could be a catalyst of change.
“He plays in a different way to the current gameplan but that may actually help him find a space in the squad.”