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Rugby | Springboks

Eben Etzebeth © Gallo Images

Exciting time for Bok game growth

The coming two months of Castle Lager Rugby Championship action is going to be an important and exciting phase in the development of the Springbok template.

A start was made against France, but it was just a start. The Boks have always known that the real test of their game-plan and the critical juncture in their game development would be reached in the Championship. The next six matches will be a litmus test of their ability to grow the attacking style of rugby that was put on the agenda at the coaching indaba in Cape Town last October.

As assistant coach Franco Smith noted earlier in the build-up week to the first match against the Pumas in Port Elizabeth, there has been a noticeable shift in emphasis in South African rugby. In a nutshell, players and teams across the board have been more willing to be adventurous and more willing to play with ball in hand.

The Lions weren’t the only local team that was prepared to carry the ball and play “no fear” rugby in the most recent edition of Super Rugby. They just did it most successfully, probably because they’ve been on the same path since former All Black mentor John Mitchell was coaching them at the turn of the last decade.

The Bulls’ recent decision to recruit Mitchell as their director of rugby was an illustration of the direction they intend heading. While the Pretoria franchise has tried to embrace a more attacking template over the past few seasons, they have appeared to fall short in application, something that has left them looking confused and lacking identity. That should change quite quickly now that Mitchell is in charge.

The Stormers and Southern Kings both produced moments of attacking magic in Super Rugby, and the Cheetahs, who were coached by Smith until the end of Super Rugby, have always been an adventurous team. The Sharks didn’t always embrace the template in Super Rugby but appear to be making a concerted effort in the Currie Cup, and the imminent return of the attack minded Dick Muir to the coaching team is a reflection of the direction they want to head.

As Smith, who learnt a lot and established quite a reputation for himself while coaching Italian club Treviso in Europe, has stressed, it is not about following a particular country, in this case New Zealand, but about proving and showing that South Africans don’t just have one way of playing and can play with ball in hand.

Smith felt that the series against France provided a good platform for the Boks to start embracing the change that has been sweeping across South African rugby thinking since the coaching indaba that was held in Cape Town a few weeks after the massive Bok defeat to the All Blacks in Durban.

“It was a great start. The series against France provided us with an opportunity to introduce a totally different game management plan,” said Smith.

“Before the series started we had to introduce it to the players. It was new to them but they were accepting of it and adaptable. It is not a case of us wanting to play like anyone else. It is about us using our strengths and our DNA built up over the years and absorbing it into a dynamic playing style. We mustn’t neglect what has made us strong in the past, but we have got to prove tour ourselves and to the world that we have the ability to play with ball in hand.”

While pleased with the progress made by the Boks in June and by what he has seen coming across all levels of the game in South Africa this year, Smith said it was important not to get carried away as there was a long road still to be travelled.

“There has been a noticeable shift across all levels, and the adventurous rugby played at Craven Week was particularly pleasing to see, but we shouldn’t get carried away about it because it is still a work in progress.”

Smith’s passion to bring through a new template across different levels makes him a good fit for his new job at the Cheetahs. With the Free Staters now heading into a new challenge as they become part of the Pro14 and prepare to play against European opposition, Smith has swopped roles with Rory Duncan, who will now coach the side. Smith agrees that the director of rugby role will suit him.

“It is a good opportunity for me as I always wanted to produce players and I started out my coaching career as director of coaching at Grey College,” he said.

“When I was head coach at the Cheetahs it was difficult to maintain an influence on what was happening below. But I see that as my role, I need to maintain a brand and ensure that the players coming through the different levels at the Cheetahs are all equipped to embrace the style of rugby the senior team is playing.

“It is a great challenge and it has made my days a lot longer in terms of the work I am putting in (dove-tailing it with being the permanent Bok backline coach), but I see it as a wonderful opportunity to make a real difference and make a positive impact.”


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