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Why Potgieter’s not to blame

South Africa’s participation in the 2013 Super Rugby tournament came to a halt this past Saturday when the flag-bearing Bulls crashed out to the Brumbies.

While critics will cast Dewald Potgieter as the villain for opting for the touchline rather than the poles on three occasions in the second half, I believe this line of thinking is completely flawed.

To close a game down and take the conservative route is the easiest thing to do. Yes, it’s a strategy which has served the Bulls well in the past but will it carry them into the future?

I believe that the major difference between South African and New Zealand sides, in particular, is in our attitude to playing the game.

At large, SA sides play in a way whereby they minimise their mistakes and thus employ a more conservative approach in terms of attack.

In so doing, the development of our players’ individual skills is neglected in training. One cannot just decide to switch on when there is an opportunity to attack in a match if such a strategy has not been practised in training over and over again.

As Potgieter and the Bulls discovered to their detriment, upping your attacking game in a playoff is exceedingly difficult if you have never trained that way previously.

A technique only becomes a skill when one can perform it under pressure. Thus, training has to make provision for this progression in order for all players to react timeously to pressure situations and ultimately make the right decisions in a match situation.

I believe that New Zealand players are afforded the opportunity to be creative. They are empowered to react to the situation in front of them and in turn, it’s up to the supporting players to back them up. If the attackers make a mistake, the supporting players attempt to turn a negative situation into a positive one.

To offer an example: in one of the 50 tries the Chiefs scored during regular-season play, I counted no fewer than 35 passes. They attacked from within their own 22 and finally scored.

It is interesting to note that not one of those passes was a long torpedo. They were all short-type passes to support players coming from depth and at pace.

The speed in rugby is on the ball and I firmly believe it should be a fast game, not slow and pedantic.

As I predicted in last week’s column, there was a huge difference between the two semifinals in terms of game speed.

I share the view that a team has to train in the way they want to play and their fitness and conditioning programmes must be in line with this. Fundamentally rugby is about fast activity and quick recovery.

The oval-ball game needs strong, explosive players and most notably, it seems to me that the New Zealand teams are getting this right.

While I don’t agree with the notion that South African sides are less fit than their New Zealand counterparts, it’s fair to say that the latter are more fitness-specific in terms of the way in which they want to play.

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