CRAIG LEWIS looks at five areas the Springboks should strive to improve upon during the Rugby Championship.
Throughout the June series against Ireland, Allister Coetzee spoke regularly about his desire to see the team making better use of the kick as an attacking weapon, while also being able to identify that when there wasn’t necessarily space out wide, a little chip into space could do the trick. In the first Test against Ireland, the Boks failed to execute a pre-match plan to put in chips behind the defence, while in the second game they struggled with their exit plays as a result of only having left-footed kickers in the likes of Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies and Willie le Roux. However, Jantjies produced an improved tactical-kicking performance in the third Test (the highlight of which was a perfectly weighted cross-kick that resulted in a try for JP Pietersen), while Ruan Combrinck provided a strong right-footed kicking option when he came into the starting lineup for the final Test. Jantjies, De Klerk and Combrinck are all set to provide the primary kicking options for the Boks in the Rugby Championship, and it’s vital that their contestable kicking, exit plays and appreciation of winning territory goes up another level against their top southern hemisphere counterparts.
Another recurring theme during the June series was the Boks’ focus on their ball-carrying body height, which was something that proved to be problematic in the first Test against Ireland when their ball-carriers predominantly went into contact while too upright. It was something that they focused on, and improved upon ahead of the second and third Tests, but it again needs to be an area that they work on ahead of the Rugby Championship. The Boks have lost one of their more physical ball-carriers in Duane Vermeulen due to injury, and are set to field a new-look loose trio. The Springboks will need to find other means to dominate the gain line and establish go-forward, and in this regard, body height and player support when going into contact will be key.
The Springboks scored seven tries in the three Tests against Ireland, but would surely acknowledge that they still have a long way to go on attack. It often appeared as if the Boks were still settling into a new game plan and battling to find that balance between when to run, kick or pass. Allister Coetzee has called on Jantjies to embrace his role as the game manager, and there is plenty he would have learned from his two starts in June. The Lions pivot is set to continue in the No 10 jersey during the Rugby Championship, and it’s vital that he takes responsibility for running the Bok show at Test level. Similarly, De Klerk’s decision-making at halfback is of utmost importance, particularly considering that the Boks have made no secret of the fact that they cannot just copy and paste the Lions’ brand of rugby at Test level. Across the board, the Springboks’ decision-making and option-taking needs to be spot on.
The Springboks produced a bit of a mixed bag at scrum time against the Irish, but a lot of work went into this set piece, and there were clear signs of improved cohesion in the third Test. The Boks scrummed particularly well on their own ball, while Steven Kitshoff and Julian Redelinghuys made a strong impression off the bench. With Frans Malherbe unavailable due to a neck injury, Redelinghuys is set to start at tighthead prop, and it will be a great opportunity for him to make that position his own. The Boks are sure to be tested at scrum time when they come up against Argentina this Saturday, and it will be important for them to pick up where they left off against Ireland, while offering more of a threat on the opponent’s put-in at scrum time.
Rather uncharacteristically, the Boks only managed to win six turnovers throughout the series against Ireland, with the visitors enjoying far greater returns in this facet of play. There’s no doubt that the Boks missed Bismarck du Plessis’s extra influence through his ball-stealing ability, while Francois Louw didn’t quite have his usual impact when it came to pilfering possession. Vermeulen’s breakdown ability will also be missed during the Rugby Championship, and so the Boks will know that they need to look at ways to ensure that they can effect crucial turnovers, while also negating the influence of renowned fetchers in the Wallabies, Argentinian and All Blacks set-up. The Boks’ decision-making at the breakdown and ability to stop opposing ball runners from dominating the gain line will all be integral to their cause if they hope to reap more rewards at the breakdown in the weeks to come.
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