Hi guys. The French Tests is just around the corner, but let us face it our rugby is not in a good state. Most of our franchises is not top quality, many of our players doesn’t have confidence, some genuine Test warriors is overseas, Bok coaching staff is bouncing between game plans, and worse of all even if we want to go back to our traditional strength of just “physicality” – that road is finished. All nations is physical and conditioned now.
For all this reasons, and to prevent disaster against France, I feel that Allister must choose a Springbok team that is majority Lions players. And he must then let those players play the Lions way.
Desperate times calls for desperate measures! So let us talk today about why I say that, and also look at some data that will help make a case why Lions rugby can be the future path for South African rugby. Then I will end off with who is my ideal Bok team for France…
So as I say, my feeling this year is that we do not have the luxury of choosing Boks from all the provinces in the traditional way. I rather want to run onto the field in the first test of 2017 with guys who has certainty, belief and authority. With a core of Lions players in the Springboks we will get that. And I also want guys on the field who already has cohesion. We do not want a repeat of last year where we see a sirkus unfold.
Here is a example. Different franchises obviously has different defence philosophies, but the problem in a test match is that when guys panic they will sometimes go back to their franchise style. So we get chaos. It take time to “gel” and to understand a new system and to trust each other in it. And guys it is also difficult to be aggressive on defence if you don’t know the players around you. Unfamiliar players will rather sacrifice line speed in order to stay “connected” to each other. The Lions has conceded the third lowest number of tries in Super Rugby this year so I am happy they doing something right.
And of course on attack we will be bringing in one of the most effective attacking machines in Super Rugby. Last year when the Lions played against all the New Zealand teams they ended the season with most number of tries scored, most defenders beaten, most meters run and they were number 3 in clean breaks. That is not something to sneeze at! The Lions attack is a beautifully-oiled gun that we can pick up and start to use immediately if we want it.
But it is not just about the short-term, it is also about the long-term. Because I think the Lions style of play can be something that the Boks can build on for the future. Do you remember the second Test against the Irish last year?
At half time one commentator say it was one of the worst Bok performances he have ever seen. The crowd boo the Springboks into the tunnel. But then later the Boks scored three tries in 17 minutes to win the game.
What happened? It was not altitude, because both teams came from Cape Town the previous week after Ireland win with 14 (and later 13) men. No, the change happen after the Lions players went onto the field, and there is some interesting data to support this.
There is a stat in rugby where guys look at how ball carriers goes into a tackle. They measure if a player goes in very straight and direct (what they call a “T-bone” carry), or if the player use footwork before contact to attack the weak side of the tackler. South African players is traditionally very direct. It is the old South African psychology where we want to try to force physical dominance on someone. But the problem is that conditioning and tackle techniques is so excellent today that the direct game have become very limited.
So now in rugby it has become about the “game within the game” at the contact point. The carrier must use footwork to attack space or the weaker shoulder of the tackler as contact happen. If he do it right then he will get across the gain line and set up quick ball. And if the next carrier also do it then it become a snowball effek with a scrambling defence. That is one of the secrets of the Lions tempo game, and it is what happened at Ellis Park with the Springboks.
In the first half the Boks was very direct – only 6% of their carries was at weak shoulders or into space. But in the second half, after guys like Whiteley, Mostert, Redelinghuys and Combrinck come on, that number shoot up to 24% and we saw with our own eyes how the tempo of the game lifted and the Boks scored three tries to win. They generate quicker ball.
Last year the Sharks had the 2nd best defence in Super Rugby but the Lions scored five tries and beat them 37-10 no problem. 47% of the Lions carries in that game was at the weak shoulder or into space.
So we saw what a difference the Lions approach brought to the Boks last year against Ireland. And even though Allister did not stick with it, I think it is time for us to look closely at how the Lions is doing things and to use it as our new textbook going forward. It is quite remarkable how their attitude to contact, their attack patterns, support, alignment and tempo is able to break down modern smothering rugby defences. If you look at the numbers, one of the statistical best attacking teams in world rugby is from South Africa. That is amazing!
Anyway, we can talk all day about the Lions. But as great as they are there is other players who has the attributes and abilities to be able to play in that way, and in some cases they will maybe strengthen the team. So if you had to ask me what is my ideal test side to play against France, this will be it:
OomBoks: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bismarck Du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Bench: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Duane Vermeulen, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Willie Le Roux, 23 Dillyn Leyds
So there it is guys. It is a team of mostly Lions with some other players added to fill weakness or to cover multiple base. It is a team of speed, skill, muscle and brains. What do you think? Do you agree that by keeping the Lions together as Springboks we can start the year on a front foot? And do you agree that the Lions blueprint can be a way forward for a modern South African style? Please let me know by leaving a comment. And also post your Bok team and why you feel it is better!