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
“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
"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
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
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.
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