Even though it’s been very tight at times, the Springboks are starting to win games they would have lost in 2017, and winning builds momentum and confidence.
Last year we played more of an expansive game that gave ball to the wings and there was less kicking, and I think that’s changed because there’s more clarity on the kicking game under Rassie Erasmus.
As you’ve probably picked up on this November tour, we’re very much a team that relies on three things to put teams under pressure: our kicking game, massive defence and a big pack of forwards.
The one change that I think would make us a much better team is if we were more balanced in our kicking game. What I mean by that is the scrumhalf is making 80 percent of our kicks, and we need to spread that responsibility out across flyhalf, fullback and the other backline positions.
Aside from the kicking ratio, the quality of our kicking off 9 is an area of concern for me. Faf de Klerk is inconsistent there and it’s no better with Ivan van Zyl or Embrose Papier. In five kicks, we’ll win one back, one will be on target, one will be too short and two will be too far.
If we’re going to ask the 9 to make so many of our kicks, there’s a massive responsibility to make sure the ball is going where we want it to. If you look at what happens when the Scotland, England or Ireland scrumhalf kicks, that ball comes down exactly where they want it to, and I think that’s where the Boks are behind.
We have one of the best packs in the game and we have a world-class flyhalf, but if you play against the Boks you know that somewhere in the match you will receive at least one counter-attack opportunity in the form of an inaccurate kick. When you play against Conor Murray and Ben Youngs, you know every ball is going to be pinpoint.
The Boks will go to the next level if we reduce the 9’s role in the kicking game to roughly 20% of the kicks, and kick more off 10 (40%) and the outside backs (40%). Then we’ll have the ability to match Ireland and New Zealand because both those teams have a massive kicking game that uses a variety of kickers.
Handre Pollard is obviously a good kicker, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel can both kick and we don’t use Willie le Roux nearly enough in the attacking kicking game.
If we can change so that we play a phase or two more before we kick, bringing the defending wingers up and isolating the fullback, we’ll be a lot less predictable. The Boks need to play to create scenarios where opponents have to cover a left- and right-footed kicker, and all we have to do is practice those scenarios to equip the decision-makers to identify where the space is.
That’s what Scotland did against us – they used cross-kicks to push our wingers deep and wide so they could attack more. And then when we came up, they looked to kick in behind us.
Willie is a very clever player and Wasps often put him in position to make those kinds of decisions – launching attacking kicks when the wingers come up or playing wide when they’re deep. The Boks used him like that against Argentina at Kings Park and he really put the Pumas under pressure.
The good thing about the Boks is that we know how we want to play, and we know what needs to be fixed. Rassie is very smart and he’ll identify the execution of kicks off 9 as something that needs to improve.
We have a handful of Tests before the World Cup and the head coach will have to decide whether he’s going to try and fix all three scrumhalves and give them each a run, or only focus on his first- and second-choice. Ideally, there should be a Bok kicking coach working with the guys during Super Rugby next year, but it seems that Rassie is going to be involved with the Bulls and hopefully he’ll have a plan to get Ivan and Embrose up to speed.
A former Springbok and Western Province flyhalf, Cilliers has worked with the likes of Morne Steyn, Derick Hougaard, Demetri Catrakilis and Lionel Cronje during his career as a kicking coach at the Bulls, Stormers and most recently as a consultant to clubs in France and Japan. Follow: @Vlokskop10