Rugby Championship: Springbok preview
Structure, territory, defence, and discipline. These will be the core values of Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok team that will make their first assault on the Rugby Championship.
The squad has been selected and the die has been cast; as many have said before “don’t expect anything different from the Springboks”.
There is no doubt that South Africa will rely on their forward pack to execute line outs and scrums competently enough to challenge any of the three opponents they will face.
Over the past four years Matfield and Botha have been the supremos at line out time and Juandre Kruger, Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth will endeavor to continue the line out legacy left behind by South Africa’s most experienced line out pairing, Matfield and Botha.
The du Plessis brothers and Beast Mtwarira have combined into a solid if not spectacular front row with enough experience and competency to gain at least parity in most situations.
Coetzee, Alberts and Spies form a new look back row, but it is the youth factor, the energy and enthusiasm they bring that will a new dimension to the ‘Boks’ back row play.
Ruan Pienaar, Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn will aim to win the territorial game. They will feed pockets of forwards taking the direct route, kick the up and unders for Habana and co. to chase, putting backs under pressure and feeding off their mistakes.
Be sure that Morne Steyn and Frans Steyn will use every opportunity to kick at goal, accumulating points divisible by three.
On defense you can expect the back line players to rush up and in, in an attempt to cut the ball off in the midfield, preventing the ball from going wide to the dangerous finishers on the outside.
The Springboks will effectively use three methods of attacking the opponents goal-line, but they will employ the line out as their primary source of first phase attack.
Be it at the maul or the back of the line out, setting big runners into channel one, setting up one ruck after another, only going wide when the opportunity presents itself. Don’t expect any maverick moves but rather direct running through the middle.
If, and only if, outside their 22, can you expect counter attacks from opposition mistakes, but the most obvious method of attack will be the use of hard direct running, building relentless pressure on the defensive line’s midfield, either resulting in defensive lapses that would yield the odd try or penalty.
So we all knew that, didn’t we? What will be different then? How will Meyer change the effectiveness of such a well known game plan?
Few will argue that the Springboks lacked execution, intensity and hunger over the past few years of Pieter de Villiers’ tenure, you only need to look at the results of the Springboks since the victorious British and Irish Lions series and the Tri Nations series in 2009.
In the period since the 2009 Tri Nations and the Tri Nations of 2011, South Africa only won 10 of 21 tests, their poorest win ratio for nearly a decade.
This is testament to a team that was poorly coached, players who were kept for too long, simply going through the motions and failing to adapt to a game that needed fresh ideas and younger players who would renew the hunger necessary to succeed on the world stage.
Therein lies the biggest difference of the Springboks 2012: they will be better coached, you can bet your bottom dollar execution will improve tenfold, you can expect their intensity to increase exponentially and you can expect them to be hungry.
If you believed they were physical before, you have a surprise coming!
The forwards will not only be more mobile, they will be faster, more intense and hunt like a pack of wolves being denied a prey for far too long, Meyer will unleash a different type of animal onto unsuspecting prey, hitting them harder, more frequently and faster than ever before.
Opponents will know what is coming, but will they be able to man up to a revitalised intensity and pace not seen from a Springbok pack for many, many years?
In Beast, Bismarck, Jannie, Bekker, Etsebeth, Alberts, Coetzee and Spies you have one of the most mobile packs in world rugby. There is pace, raw power and a willingness to run at the opposition, but there is more, a willingness to look for the support player and a willingness to offload.
Hougaard is not in the mould of Fourie du Preez, he is more unpredictable, stronger, faster.
Morne Steyn is at last chance saloon, if he doesn’t succeed against Argentina, there may very well be a new pivot come Australia and New Zealand.
Frans Steyn is one of the most experienced 25 year old internationals around, at over 100 kg, a siege gun boot, the strength of a forward and an ability to get to the gain line with an ability to feed the support runner, he is a danger man against anyone.
Jean de Villiers may not be the best distributor, in fact I believe that to be his only weakness, but in defense and on attack still as good as anyone.
JP Pietersen will be sorely missed by the Springboks, currently one of the form players in the world there is really no replacement in his class, but Habana is looking hungry, Lambie needs some game time, and Argentina will be all he needs to regain confidence and form.
You now know what’s coming, but will you be able to handle it?
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