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Jean was right


Jean de Villiers may have stunned the whole country with what he said on Saturday night – that the Springboks had not changed their game-plan, but he was right.

There is no doubt the comments dropped like a bombshell in most living rooms across the country. After all, had the Boks not realised they could change? Did they not see the difference they executed against an admittedly weak Australian outfit?

De Villiers went to great lengths to underline his point. The Boks had won. Yes, and they had produced some scintillating rugby. The only difference between Loftus and Dunedin was they had finally used their chances.

“We haven't changed one thing," De Villiers said. "The thing that has changed is that we are now capitalising on the pressure we put on the opposition. People don't seem to understand that.

"We have shown that we can create, and now we are starting to finish. It's not that we went out there with a more attacking mindset. It was more about playing the situation.

"If the opposition leaves men back, then obviously there is more space to attack from close. If they bring men up, then you will kick to the back to find the space. No defence is watertight, there is always space. It's about finding out where that space is and exploiting it."

What De Villiers failed to say was that the situation was there to be played and the Boks chose to play it. While they had shown little more than they had before, they were able to play a more varied game, far from the one-dimensional kicking game they had played much of the season before.

But this is not new in itself either. The second test against England saw the Boks produce such a 40 minutes, but then go back into their shell as well. Afterwards Meyer was adamant that the team was still learning, still adapting to test rugby.

Since then, the Bok pack has taken massive strides forward. This nobody can deny. Their domination of the All Black pack in Dunedin and subsequent bullying of the Wallaby pack pay testament to this. Add to this the loose trio that is working like a charm at the moment, with the inspirational selection of Francois Louw paying dividends, and the Boks are finally producing a platform for their backs to play off.

This is the major difference between Port Elizabeth, Mendoza and Loftus. In the first two the Bok pack struggled for momentum, and often the halfbacks were playing off back-foot ball. Very often they were kicking because they had no choice and kicking badly at that.

Now I know the muttering has already started while reading this and asking what about Johan Goosen? What Goosen brought to the party, to coin a Meyer phrase, was variety and a different mindset.

While Steyn, under pressure and lacking confidence, had retreated into the pocket, and off bad ball attempted to run at times, Goosen grew in confidence as the game went on. His break (courtesy of a beauty of a pass by Francois Louw) was magical and while his game technically has some drawbacks, he certainly showed enough promise to allow him to grow into the position.

Interestingly a worthy debate could be whether Jean de Villiers's move back to 12 had helped the backline perform better? Either way, despite missing out on a few opportunities, the Boks had showed they can perform with ball in hand.

De Villiers and Meyer have always said they need to “play the situation” and after eight weeks together, the team is finally showing that. The game-plan hasn’t changed, but the change in personnel, the great momentum from the pack and the decision-making has.

For that, we should be grateful. This weekend the Boks will face the All Blacks fresh from a mauling of the Pumas. The lesson in that game was that the Pumas tried to play too much of an expansive game, and “played too much rugby” against the World Champions. Mistakes were punished and once they were behind the All Blacks went for the kill.

This weekend the Boks need to be tactically astute. They need to have good decision-making abilities and play the situation again. To become overly expansive, or revert to a type-approach under pressure would be counter-productive.

Expect a more measured approach, but one which is driven differently behind the scrum. The All Blacks will supply more pressure than the Aussies did at Loftus, and apply much of it on Goosen.

The Bok pack needs to lay the same platform again. Only then can Goosen make those crucial decisions on how to attack.

Want to continue the debate? Follow @brendennel on Twitter to discuss the Boks further.


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