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Random toughts of a Sports Lover…

Running into spaces, not faces….

I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while and have not been updating it with my recent posts. If you want you can subscribe to my other blog to get all my latest updates.

“Rugby is not a contact sport. It’s a collision sport.” That is one of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s quotes, and by now you will have seen that he is hell bound to stick with his philosophy of creating “collisions”.

It’s been a disastrous start for Heyneke Meyer’s reign as Springbok coach. One that he would not have wished on his worst enemies perhaps and made the Springboks the laughing stock of World Rugby this past weekend.

At least with Div, he was the “laughing stock” in media conferences, while our team did the business on the field.

Yes, hasn’t lost a game (yet). But then, he’s drawn two matches which, historically, the Springboks have more than often been able to win.

His tenure started with questions regarding his true colours when his squad selections were finalised. Was it be Blue or Green and Gold? But those were firmly argued away as this was his “Emergency squad” because he had only 1 week to prepare his side, and he would rather pick players who are used to his style and understand his systems….

The first 40 minutes against England was forgettable, but an inspiring second half saw the Springboks the way we like to see them. Running with the ball and demolishing the opposition. That was true for some part of the second test as well, perhaps the first 20 minutes if I recall, and then everything just fell apart. Yes, we still won the second test against England, but it was far from convincing.

Meyer was quick to point out that we struggled at the rucks, something we all could see was a problem. Hougaard never had any room to play the ball, never mind getting quick ball to his backs. Getting his hands on the ball was the problem firstly, and secondly if he did and tries his (game plan based) boxed kicks, it got charged down more often than not. Leading to inaccurate execution and a poor game overall. Meyer pointing out what we all could see was the problem inspired hope that we would correct those issues.

Alas, the third England test saw us in tatters as we lost our only gain line breaker in Alberts, THE Key player in Meyer’s setup, injured and replaced with Jacques Potgieter who was hoped (perhaps more than expected) to fill Alberts’ boots. He fell a far cry short and the Springbok game plan of forward dominance was as impotent as a daisy in the desert.

We were left with more questions again than answers after the third England test, especially considering that it was an England side depleted from several key players, and we supposedly had our best available players int he squad.

The Super Rugby continued and South African fans were ecstatic that we had 3 teams in the top 6, with one team placed at nr 1, and two teams that should have been 4 and 5 had it not been for the conference system.

We had two teams in the semi finals, and one in the final. Although none were successful at the death, it boded well for our Springbok fortunes, being able to dominate the log against our greatest rivals.

Meyer seemed to persist with his Emergency squad though when the squad for Argentina was announced…the one which was selected since he’s had only one week to prepare. Now the question starts arising, has he not been watching the players in the Super Rugby competition or has he only been focusing on his “emergency” squad which is turning out to be a little bit more than that?

I don’t need to go into the details of the Argentina matches but a close win and a draw against a team that we’ve averaged 5 tries a match, with an average score of 42-21 was and still is not, palatable and still stuck in my throat like a 3 month old, butter-less loaf.

Meyer cited inexperience as reasons for the demise of the team, and suddenly players like Matfield, du Preez, Bakkies, Schalk Burger, Jaque Fourie and even John Smit (would you believe) are heroes again and their retirement the reason for the Springboks drop in form.

Peter de Villiers is being blamed for not building a squad that his successor can work with, and we are stuck with inexperience in the side.

Now for Meyer to have had it tough in his first few tests, considering the lack of time he had with the squad to imprint his vision onto the team, I can forgive. But he is persisting with a side we all were made to believe was “temporary” because of the situation and this side is NOT performing. Losing (the scoreboard may say different, but we know we actually lost that match) against Argentina is simply not forgivable right now and Meyer will have to make massive leaps of success in the near future to make that match in Mendoza a distant memory.

We sit with quite experienced players now playing Currie Cup Rugby simply because Meyer is not interested in them. Do the names Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon ring a bell? What about the experience of one Ryan Kankowski who was set aside so he had no choice but to take up offers from Japan? Remember that these players all had meetings and conferences with Meyer to know where they stand in the pecking order. Kanko would certainly not have left had he known he was “next in line” as Meyer made us believe when he said he would have picked him had he not left for Japan. Really now Meyer, did you tell Kanko that before he left?

We’ve had experience leave us in Ashley Johnson. Not the greatest player but certainly more impressive than JacPot who got his free ticket into the Springbok side when he signed up with the Bulls.

What about the Wunderkind, Patrick Lambie, who is left on the sidelines week after week watching the Springboks implode and destroy themselves with the most pathetic brand of Rugby I have EVER seen by the Green and Gold. We were outplayed, outsmarted, and tactically out-mastered by a Rugby side that is vastly more inexperienced than the Springboks and we use inexperience an the loss of key players in Bakkies, Matfield, du Preez, Burger, Fourie….players who many said were over the hill last year if I am not mistaken….

So while Meyer is blaming inexperience and his fans blindly swallows everything he says ( I too was happy he was appointed, yes) he has experience at the tips of his fingers, he just needs to pick them.

But the problem is not inexperience. The problem is that the Springboks is employing and outdated, outlawed and out-thought game plan for which the scrolls should by now by safeguarded from access by the IRB’s artifact museum. It has no place in the modern game were the ruck area has been regulated to such extent that it is wiser to avoid it than to seek it out.

JacPot’s dive to the ground without any player attempting to tackle him was classic evidence of the disease that is plaguing our team. Run into contact, go to ground, recycle, do it again. Meanwhile, the babies of the Rugby Championship showed us how it should be done. Run into spaces, offload the ball to the player that’s running into another space, keep the ball off the ground and in the hands…

We’ve seen this mastered by the All Blacks, and let’s be honest, their stocks are pretty much as experienced as ours, but they have chosen to pick new blood. Youngsters like Cruden, Barret, Smith, Whitelock, Romano, Messam (not a youngster but an inexperienced All Black). They’ve lost key players in Williams, Thorne, Donald, Muialina, Rockocoko, and I don’t see them losing all of a sudden to second tier teams?

Perhaps we should stop looking back to those great players we had last year and blame the current status-quo on them and De Villier’s perceived inability to build a squad for the future. We have enough depth in this country to be competitive in international rugby, 3 teams in the Super Rugby playoffs proves it, and then we are not even talking about the quality we have overseas.

Our Bok camp need to renew their thinking about Rugby. In fact, all the unions, bar the Cheetahs and Sharks who are doing it to some extent already, need to renew their thinking on how Rugby is played.

We see too much of this “bash’em up” Rugby which kills the game, loses you posession and loses you titles. We see too little of spreading the ball into spaces, making the ball do the work, as my primary school coach told us to do so many times.

I keep thinking back to something Peter de Villiers said at the start of his tennure. That he wants to play an expansive game and why should you run into people when you can run around them? The media and the public laughed at him. And for two years, the media and the public were proved right to some extent. He settled on the Matfields, Bakkies, du Preez, Smit, Burger, Smith, Fourie, De Villiers way of things and allowed them to play the game they were comfortable with. But with the regulation of the rucks and the vast increase in the pace of the game, we fell behind and it was too late to employ the “run around them” approach. Perhaps Div had foresight, or maybe he just didn’t realise it so strongly, but perhaps if he persisted with his case, we would have seen much better rugby from the Springboks which might have been sustainable and allowed for variation to such an extent that your opposition cannot predict your next move.

Naas said it beautifully. We sitting here in South Africa, know what our next move is going to be on the Rugby field. How much more does the opposition know what move will we make next?

The bash’em up plan is to be forgetten about and the scrolls should be destroyed, never to be looked at again. Meyer should start considering, isn’t it time we run into spaces, rather than faces?

Filed under: Rugby, Springboks, The Rugby Championship, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. Roly says:

    I seldom go to sports24 blogs anymore. I have lost my urge to write sports blogs. I can’t seem to find my mojo. I’ll give it a rest for a while and see if the site improves. 🙂

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