I was at the Springboks training session the other day, after their first squad for the year had been named, and it was interesting to get a first hand perpective on the tactics the team will take into the English Tests.
The verdict – precise kicking from 9 and 10.
From what I could determine, it looks like kicking will play a big part in the game plan, which fits in with the type of team that new coach Heyneke Meyer has selected (Blue bulls style).
He has clearly picked a team that he knows will play the simple style that he wants to play. It’s a team rich in talent and experience, which is important as he must win in the eyes of all South Africans.
Sure, there’s been a lot of people in South Africa complaining about the squad, and the omission of flanker Heinrich Brussow in particular. And to be fair, a number of Stormers players who have been playing well haven’t been picked.
But Heyneke knows the world will be watching, and playing England at home, he knows winning is the first and foremost priority.
Yesterday, we saw the Wallabies lose (again) to Scotland.
It seems to me, the problem was that the Australian team had no combinations in the centres and at 8-9-10.
You need combinations at this level of rugby. You can’t just pick a bunch of talented individuals and expect them to do the job.
I am sure some will use the weather as an excuse but, sorry, not good enough. This is the ultimate level of rugby and there are no excuses.
In the past, the most successful teams have had great combinations in key positions: Farr-Jones/Ella, Farr-Jones/Lynagh, Hawker/O’Connor, Nonu/Smith, van der Westhuizen/Stransky, Gregan/Larkham, to name a few.
What is concerning me is the move towards creating all-round players and doing away with specialist players, which affects the team and the combinations.
Communicating and understanding each other comes through playing together consistently, which does not happen nowadays. Some would argue that Australia has not produced a successful combination at 10/12/13 since Horan and Little, some 12 years ago.
The Springboks under 20 team played against Ireland the other day.
Ireland controlled the game and the Boks combinations didn’t click into gear. They had a few opportunities to win but combinations and confidence let them down.
At one point near the death, they had a lineout four meters out from the Irish line and lost the ball and the match as a result.
You must stay composed and stick to the basics.
This is what happens when you get together as a new team, without any significant combinations in place.
Look at the Reds this season. Genia has struggled this year because, for much of it, he hasn’t had Cooper alongside of him in the backline. The more great players you have, the more pressure you put on the opposition.
But an even bigger problem in Australia is that we lack combinations in the centers, as we saw in the RWC2011.
Wouldn’t it be great to see a Horan/Little combo again? Stop the opposition and give the outside backs a chance to show how good they are.
Having watched the Springboks backline at training, you could see that it is a backline that has played together and will understand each other under pressure.
Meyer has entered his debut series with an understanding that he needs to pick combinations in key positions to be in with a show of winning.
At this level of rugby, you can’t keep chopping and changing. That’s when things fall apart.
Against England, the Springboks are playing the enemy. There is a lot of pride there. They simply have to win. And I think this squad can do it.
Check out a bbumper weekend of rugby ahead, with the All Blacks vs Ireland and Australia vs Wales. I know what I will be doing.