‘Tactical lesson will serve Boks’

Allister Coetzee has instructed the Springboks to stick to a pragmatic game plan that is best suited to Test rugby, reports JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.

Last Saturday’s match at Newlands did not unfold as many expected it would. Ireland produced a physical and tactical masterclass to slay the Boks 26-20. They achieved this historic win despite having a one-man disadvantage for most of the contest.

Many were surprised by the result as well as the Boks' performance. Afterwards, Coetzee said that the players had failed to stick to the game plan.

Instead of playing the situation, instead of varying their play between running and kicking, the players persisted with an all-out attacking approach. As the result confirms, the ploy backfired horribly.

Evidently some strong words have been exchanged in the wake of that failure. On Monday, Coetzee said that the match at Newlands should serve as a lesson to the Bok players. South Africa were one-dimensional in their determination to run absolutely everything. By contrast, Ireland kept the hosts guessing.

‘The big lesson the players learned is that Test rugby is built on territorial dominance,’ Coetzee said. ‘Physical dominance is crucial, and so is scoreboard pressure. Those are three things that are non-negotiable for success at this level.’

The Bok coach then went on to highlight the difference between Super Rugby and Test rugby. The new caps in the team would not have been familiar with the tactical demands of the latter. The senior statesmen and more established players, however, should have known better.

‘You have to get the right balance between kicking and running. You have to use the space that’s available, whether it’s out wide or behind the defence,’ said Coetzee. ‘I think the players will be embarrassed to see how many opportunities went begging when we do our review. We didn’t convert many chances into points.

‘We played too much rugby inside our own half. I think we got sucked into a Super Rugby-style of play. That doesn’t work at this level.’

The All Blacks struggled against Wales’ defence and kicking game during the early stages of the Test in Auckland last week. It was only when New Zealand changed tactics in the second stanza that they took control of the contest and secured the victory.

The Wallabies played more rugby in the first match of the three-Test series in Brisbane. And yet it was the defence and tactical kicking of England that led to a victory for the visitors. Like the Boks, the Wallabies did not vary their play nearly enough.

‘If you look at the northern hemisphere sides, they are playing a style that is more in line with Test rugby,' said Coetzee. ‘We see a lot of ball-in-hand rugby at Super Rugby level. Last Saturday, when the pressure was on us at Newlands, you saw some of the bad habits from Super Rugby coming through. At the elite level, you’ve got to understand that a balance is needed.

‘Look at how good Ireland were last Saturday,’ Coetzee continued. ‘They weren’t interested in playing too much. They kicked in behind us and then kept us pinned in our half. It was a very clever tactic and unfortunately we couldn’t respond. We were tactically off-colour in that game.’

Coetzee has asked his charges for a more physical and tactically sound performance at Ellis Park this Saturday. He reiterated that the Boks want to play a balanced game. They will not revert to a conservative approach in response to the loss at Newlands.

‘I’m not suggesting that we are going to go the other way this week and kick absolutely everything. That won’t work. You can’t force it, you have to look up and see where the space is, and then decide whether to kick or pass.’

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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Jon Cardinelli