Allister Coetzee needs to back a more traditional game plan if the Springboks are to continue the tradition of beating the Wallabies in Pretoria, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Boks find themselves in a desperate position. While their 2016 season has already witnessed inaugural losses to Ireland at home and Argentina away, and while they have lost three matches in a row, there is a chance that the situation may go from bad to worse. This coming Saturday, the Boks could lose to the Wallabies at Loftus Versfeld for the first time in history.
One would hope that the threat of surrendering yet another record motivates the coaches and players to see their objective more clearly. They should forget all the talk about evolution. They should, at this stage, forget about trying to close the gap between themselves and the All Blacks. Winning should be their only goal, and the selections and tactics should be geared towards this short-term end.
Sadly, even at this stage, the message is unclear. Since the beginning of the season, it’s been evident that the coaches and many of the players are not on the same page. Coetzee has spoken about pragmatic rugby at length during press conferences, and then the players have taken some tactical options on game day that have served as a contradiction.
But then Coetzee’s selections have not always matched his press-conference mission statements. Many felt that the Bok coach was right to back Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies after the halfback pair had excelled for the Lions in the Super Rugby competition. However, Jantjies in particular has battled with the demands of Test rugby, and with his directive to play for territory.
The problem for Coetzee is that there are so few options available. And yet, with Handré Pollard injured and Jantjies struggling with form and confidence, there is only one real answer. If the Bok medical team still isn’t 100% sure about Pat Lambie’s fitness at this point, then Coetzee would do well to make a statement and back Morné Steyn.
That statement is that the Boks need to win against the Wallabies this Saturday. They need to dominate territory, and they need to kick their goals.
Steyn, the veteran of 64 Tests, is one of the most accomplished kickers of his generation. His accurate boot boosted the Bulls to a couple of Super Rugby titles. He steered the Boks to a big series win against the British & Irish Lions, and to the 2009 Tri-Nations title. Over the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Steyn set a Test record by slotting 41 consecutive goal kicks.
Lambie returned from a concussion-related ailment a couple of weeks ago. He came off the bench in the weather-affected Currie Cup match between the Sharks and the EP Kings. How can he be rushed back into the starting side for a Test as important as the one at Loftus Versfeld this Saturday?
It’s easy to understand why Coetzee may be tempted to do exactly that. Lambie is somewhere between Jantjies and Steyn in terms of skill set. His goal-kicking is right up there, but in general play he can add value as a tactical kicker and as a distributor (even though he is not as strong a kicker as Steyn or as dangerous an attacking runner as Jantjies).
But to back Lambie at this point in his rehabilitation would be a gamble, and Coetzee can no longer afford to take chances. He needs to settle on a fit player and a tried-and-tested strategy.
Some will look at the selection of Steyn as a backward step. The reality is that the Boks have been travelling backwards for much of the 2016 season.
The Boks need to arrest the slide, and get back to winning ways. At this point, Steyn represents their best chance of winning the tactical-kicking battle, and thus their best chance of claiming a victory that will snap a three-game losing streak.
I keep using the phrase ‘at this point’ because I want to make it clear that the 32-year-old Steyn is not the long-term answer at flyhalf. The Boks will have some good options at their disposal when Lambie is fit and Pollard returns. If Jantjies can address his shortcomings, he could also be a force at Test level in the years to come.
But this week, Coetzee should make his message clear. The Bok coach should back a team and a flyhalf that has the ability to subdue and ultimately conquer the Wallabies.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix