The Boks are exactly a 61.5% team….here’s an intelligent journalist.

Forum » Rugby » The Boks are exactly a 61.5% team….here’s an intelligent journalist.

Nov 21, 2021, 16:51

The Springboks’ fifth loss of the year at the hands of England completed a tough season full of grit and determination, yet the final 8-5 record does little to cement this team’s status as a dominant force of the game.

Head coach Jacques Nienaber is well within his rights to believe his side is ‘better than the percentages suggest’, as any coach would.

He knows his team, his players and sees the potential they have. Every coach is susceptible to the same blind loyalty and inherent belief that comes with the job. If you don’t believe in your squad, who else will? In the process of continual improvement, the only mindset to have is to believe the potential is the sky.

But that same insider perspective can be a limiting one, as flaws are often unable to be recognised, addressed or even considered. Too much belief often comes with a disregard for reality.

In the midst of the three-game skid during the Rugby Championship, defiance was high on the agenda. The ‘DNA’  line was trotted out until it was stale: a foolhardy commitment to a defeatist game plan that wasn’t producing. They were ‘close’ to winning, we were told, so that was an endorsement of the game plan.

Internally, now they are looking to three or four losses that came in the final few minutes this season to feel they are better than the results suggest, a redundant exercise in ego-padding which can have more negative consequences than positive.

‘We can be better’ is a very different message to ‘we are better’ , which absconds from responsibility and only serves to build complacency in players’ minds after dropping five tests in a calendar year.

One could also point to the third Lions test, which was minutes away from a drawn series before a Lions error gifted the Springboks a kickable penalty goal to snatch a lead.

Or the second All Blacks test, ten seconds away from full-time needing a low percentage miracle to get back the ball to even stay alive.

How about against the Wales B-side? Leaving it late to take a two-point lead in the 73th minute and still giving Wales one last possession to go the full length of the field and win at the end.

Those are three wins that could have been losses, just like the four losses that could have been wins. On the balance of all the games, this win percentage isexactly who they are and have been all year.

The layup games against the underprepared Pumas, the second Lions test and the win over Scotland at Murrayfield were the only comfortable displays over tier one opposition. The rest were a grind, with plenty ending up on the wrong side of the ledger. Over the long run, you can’t escape the percentages.

It’s just how these Springboks play.

For most of the year they used a kick-everything game plan with little-to-no attacking initiative that came down to one or two calls that sometimes fell their way, and sometimes didn’t.

That tin-arse approach of kick, scrum, maul and take penalties did not produce dominant wins. It just scrapped wins and then also failed them.

With this approach, they will always be in a lot of games to the very end, and then need uncontrollable moments to fall their way. Live by the whistle and then die by the whistle.

That’s why the referee commands so much focus. The referee is vitally important to the Springboks’ winning ways.

Does this mean they are a poor side? Not at all.

This isn’t a zero-sum, binary view of the Springboks. This is just the honest truth. They are a very good side, not a great one, that plays to their strengths, tries to hide their weaknesses and is very rigid in their approach.

They are not looking to become a great attacking side that puts teams to bed early. They aren’t willing to adapt or evolve their approach too much. They are happy living and dying by the 50-50s, living off their pack, and then deflecting when it doesn’t work.

They have world-class players across the park, particularly up front in the locks and back row. Their work at the breakdown has been spectacular this year. If you bring a flawed game plan to the pitch, they will get you.

But if you plan accordingly, you can beat them.

Although their season finished at 8-5, there are clearly different circumstances this year which required many away games and the five at home were without crowds.

In 2022, they will hopefully get to play the Wallabies, All Blacks and Los Pumas at home in front of their fans in the Rugby Championship. It looks like Wales are touring in July and they will play Ireland, France, Italy and Wales on the end of year tour.

Next year’s slate is another chance for the Springboks to prove they are a historically great side and put together something more conclusive to go with all the mythology around their 2019 World Cup title, because 2021 certainly didn’t do it.

The biggest favour the Springboks can do for the rest of the world is continue to believe this way of playing is going to led to success in France in two years time.

They are doubling down on the same squad, it doesn’t seem like building depth was a priority this year. Despite the losses, the same line-up continually played in 2021.

Most of this pack will be in their early thirties by 2023, with experience and guile but a touch less dynamism. The spine of Faf de Klerk (32 in 2023) , Handre Pollard (29) and Willie le Roux (34) will also be a mature one by rugby’s standards. There isn’t any serious succession planning going on for anyone but Duane Vermeulen.

As the saying goes, if your enemy is making a mistake, don’t interrupt them. For the sake of everyone else, keep playing this way, with these players.

It barely got by in 2021, and likely isn’t going to in 2023 with another two years of wear and tear. History already proves that those that stay the same get left behind.

The All Blacks are currently a perfect example of that. Sticking with hangovers from the Hansen-era, playing the same game with the same plays under Foster, just fell apart in the two most important tests of the year.

Who now believes South Africa are far and away the world’s best team in 2021 after an 8-5 season? Scrapping the Lions by a razor thin margin? After coming third in their one annual flagship tournament? Just escaping embarrassment against Wales and now losing to a young England side?

Which top tier one side seriously doesn’t think they can beat them? Who would back them, outside of South Africa, if they extended their trip to Dublin or Paris next week?

If the illusion ever had you fooled, the fog should have lifted by now. The Springboks are a very competitive, 61.5 per cent winning team, marginally less than they have been historically (62.7 per cent).

Article by Ben Smith:

They are tough to beat but get beaten regularly. It’s that simple.

Welcome to a new era in test rugby, with no dominant team or leader. Everyone in the top six or seven teams can beat each other, as has happened in 2021.

And that couldn’t be better for the game.

Nov 21, 2021, 17:05

I suppose I like this take because it’s exactly my take. Our scrums and breakdown work are spectacular. Our lineout dominant. We have good players across the whole team.

But we are playing dead head rugby….with the lowest effectiveness in ball usage of any of the top teams. We also have produced almost no new test talent under Harrassmiss.

In short our coaches have doubled down on Bools rugby. We needed to find the forward foundation in our game. But that never meant losing all the ball in hand game. 

And concerningly our defence is nowhere near as dominant as it was at the WC. Unlike England at the WC….yesterday’s England was able to punch over our line when the opportunity presented,

We have to back Nienaber and give him the help he needs to evolve our game. And I don’t mean more antics from the self serving director of rugby. I mean a proper backline coach who is backed to create some proper backline skills,

Nov 21, 2021, 17:28

He lost me at Welsh B side...

Nov 21, 2021, 17:36

Agree many true points made in the journalist comments.

But the issue is who is going to make the necessary changes?

Nov 21, 2021, 17:46

Without knocking Erasmus …..we won’t evolve until Nienaber gets the reigns unequivocally. Two leaders will only work while the team is winning. And  we need the kind of specialist lift Nienaber gave us on defense….this time on offense. 

How about Jean de Villiers. He isn’t a hair on fire guy, played within the system but more creatively than our current set up. Failing that I’d look in Oz, they still produce the best attacking ideas….double wing structures..  players onto the ball at pace.

Nov 21, 2021, 20:03

Bottom line is that we are better than most sides and we compete with the best teams home and away. We are much better than being given credit for most of the time. Best team since 2009 ...even better IMO.

Nov 22, 2021, 15:53

Best front row since readmission used collectively….best Bok lock ever in Etzebeth…a pro in Vermeulen….a lion hearted competitor in Faf….a  weapon in Kolbe.

And a lot or ordinary players along for the ride.

Nov 22, 2021, 16:47

The only reason we are sitting at 61.5% is because we were missing our coach

Under Rassie we are at 70% and climbing

As soon as Rassie is not with the team in person we falter - FACT

Of the 5 we lost this year Rassie was absent from 4 and thanks to the confirmed incompetence of Berry we lost the first test to the Lions under Rassie

Nov 22, 2021, 17:07

Even if true that is 100% Harrassmiss’ fault. Firstly if he did the normal stint for an international coach he would have stayed through WC 2023. Then he hangs on like Banquo’s ghost totally marginalizing Nienaber.

Then he sends Nienaber off by himself to play NZ and Oz, having unsportingly coached the Boks for the entire Lions series from the actual field.

Then he comes comes back for the YE games he thinks we are going to win. But it’s all made murky by the video and then is banned for the Pom game.

Most coaches serve their teams, but Harrassmiss doesn’t serve the Boks, they are there to serve his ego. Everything that happened to him and the Boks, happened because he set it in motion for selfish reasons.

Nov 22, 2021, 18:13

Well, Rassie is not allowed to be there on match days anymore. So definitely going to be a problem next year. 

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