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Williams reveals the impact of the Brown factor

INTERVIEW: Grant Williams confirmed that attack coach Tony Brown had challenged the Springbok halfbacks to think differently about decision-making and space ahead of the two-Test series against Ireland.

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Brown has been with South Africa for over five months and worked closely with most of the Bok players for several weeks.

Yet at every press conference, there’s an inevitable question about his ‘new role’, and how the Boks are striking out in a ‘new’ attacking direction.

Strictly speaking, the Boks began that new journey at Twickenham two weeks ago.

The game against Wales marked the start of the 2024 season, as well as South Africa’s first match in the four-year cycle, which will culminate with the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

The Boks scored five tries in a 41-13 win.

But in another sense, the real journey will start at Loftus Versfeld this Saturday, when a full-strength Bok team faces Ireland in the first of two Tests.

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After all the talk, the world champions will have a chance to show where they stand, and indeed how much they’ve gleaned from Brown – who is one of the sharpest attacking coaches in the game.

Brown held court at the team hotel in Pretoria on Monday.

Laws advisor Jaco Peyper, who was also part of the three-man panel, was equally engaging.

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For a while, Williams cut a lonely figure at the end of the top table.

He was polite and to the point when responding to general questions related to the team’s mood and vibe.

The scrumhalf’s eyes lit up, though, every time Brown spoke about the team’s quest to realise its potential as an attacking entity.

And he was at his most animated when speaking about that attacking ambition.

“As Tony said, we’re trying to see space better and identify opportunities a lot earlier than before,” the Bok scrumhalf said.

“[The team’s attack and personnel] have changed since two years ago.

“We’ve got [halfbacks] like me, MornĂ© van den Berg, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Jordan Hendrikse, and we’re all trying to learn as much as we can.

“There’s healthy competition in the squad with four scrumhalves.

“That will bring out the best in me, and the Springbok standards are always very high.

“There’s no time to slack off.”

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Many of these players haven’t played together since the 2023 World Cup final last October, and it may take some time for them to settle into the new structures.

Nevertheless, Brown is pushing the players to explore the depths of their talent, and to dispose with conservative thinking.

This doesn’t mean that the Boks will abandon the existing game plan, which relies on a powerful set piece, an aggressive defensive system and an accurate kicking game.

When the Boks do have the ball – as the attacking or counter-attacking team – they must convert more of their chances into points.

Hence Brown’s push to develop South Africa’s chief decision makers: their scrumhalves and flyhalves.

Faf de Klerk may resume his role at No.9 if he makes a full recovery from a leg injury.

The Boks have another veteran – Cobus Reinach – in their squad, and you would expect Erasmus to favour experienced players for a clash of this nature.

But there is a chance that the Bok coach will pick seven forwards and one back on the bench – as he did against Ireland in the World Cup pool match last year.

Williams has the ability to cover scrumhalf as well as wing in a more structured game – and his speed and finishing prowess may come to the fore if the contest opens up in the latter stages.

If he doesn’t start, he may well play a utility role from the bench.

Either way, his newly sharpened decision-making skills could be in the spotlight.

@rugby365com

In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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