Boks open to innovation
The selection of Willie le Roux at fullback for Saturday’s test opener against Italy is an exciting indication that the Springbok technical team are aiming to push the boundaries.
I think we can expect a slight air of unpredictability about the Boks in this series and, in terms of playing pattern, my sense is that Heyneke Meyer has an ace up his sleeve.
Possibly expect the Boks to hold onto possession for longer periods of time from further out. Expect the home side to change direction slightly more frequently in order to catch the Italians off guard.
I think it’s fair to say that the Springboks are not notorious for an ‘expansive’ game plan, however employing a more ball-in-hand approach could spark some really exciting outcomes.
Wales coach Warren Gatland always used to joke that when his side faced the Springboks, he wouldn’t bother to do any video analysis on the South Africans as he knew exactly what to expect.
When the Boks employ their Plan A, which is underpinned by a forward-dominated, territorially-based game strategy, it may be easy to predict but it’s highly challenging to stop.
The point I’m making is that the Bok management team must be applauded for thinking outside the box. If things are not going to plan in a game, there is always the option of returning to our traditional strengths but I am pleased that there are signs of progression and a Plan B.
In international rugby, the more strings to a side’s bow, the better the chance of success.
While evolution is a strong word, I have a sense that the Springbok class of 2013 will start flirting more with innovation. While the Boks will always base their game around a strong forward-based framework, opportunity knocks for players such as Bjorn Basson, Bryan Habana and Willie le Roux to express their attacking magic and a greater level of inventiveness.
No disrespect to the opponents South Africa will face in the next three tests but any team outside of the top five ranking in world rugby have to be regarded as minnows. Thus, the level of supporter and media expectation will be heightened.
However, the Boks rival an Italian side that has come on in leaps and bounds. Finishing fourth in the 2013 Six Nations, ahead of both Ireland and France, was a great achievement for Jacques Brunel’s men. They were highly competitive and no one really walked over them this season.
Their captain and star man, Sergio Parisse, is comfortably one of the best loose forwards in world rugby. If a world XV side were to be selected tomorrow, I have no doubt that his name would be one of the first on the team sheet. He always plays like a man possessed and certainly carries that certain X-factor which coaches often speak of with a glint in their eye.
While Parisse will produce a storming display, the Italians will struggle against the Springboks in the small nuances of the game. Yes, they will match the Boks in the scrums but unfortunately for them the modern game is not won or lost on scrums alone.
For example, each team may only get eight scrums in a particular match, which works for southern hemisphere sides who don’t utilise the set-piece as an attacking weapon as much their northern rivals do.
The Italian forwards will be physical and they will be competitive and combative at the breakdown but their backline lacks real potency to pierce holes in the Springbok defence. Moreover, they lack game managers in the crucial 9/10 axis.
While the Azzurri will attempt to play the territorial game, I don’t see them matching the Boks in that department and I envisage Morne Steyn winning the kicking duel.
I believe that Heyneke’s selections suggest that he views this match, and series as a whole, as an opportunity for the Boks to play ‘more’ rugby provided it’s in the right areas of the field.
The Italians possess a big, strong, heavy pack and while they can go toe-to-toe with an opponent in the wet, a dry day in Durban will see the Springboks running the Italians off their feet.
Expect the Boks to score some impressive tries and put at least 40 points past their northern foes.