Why Kiwis are dismissing the Boks as a threat
OPINION: The dismissive attitude of scribes from the Northern Hemisphere can easily be put down to ‘sour grapes’.
However, the New Zealand media believe their reasoning holds more water, when they discount South Africa as a credible threat.
The miles of columns written about the Springboks’ two-one series win over the British and Irish Lions have not been very flattering – certainly not those from scribes outside the Republic.
And it seems the current trend of blasting the Boks is not going to change anytime soon.
RugbyPass columnist Michael Pulman is the latest Kiwi to blast the Boks over their seemingly ‘dour’ and ‘boring’ approach to the game.
It seems to have become a favourite pastime in Aotearoa, especially now that the Rugby Championship is about to get underway.
Pulman suggested the Boks require some “changes” to their game or face “some big losses against the All Blacks and Wallabies”.
He suggested Siyamthanda Kolisi and his champion team – World Cup Champions, Rugby Championship title holders and B&I Lions series winners – could ‘flex their muscles’ all they like, because “they’re not really flexing anything at all”.
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The complete Michael Pulman column
Don’t expect Ian Foster and the All Blacks to be lying awake at night in fear of their impending encounters against the Springboks just yet.
With all due respect to the defending world champions, little to come out of their 2-1 series victory over the British and Irish Lions has shed any light on where this side is really at apart, from what we already knew.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in the current rugby climate. There is every chance that the Springboks don’t venture across to New Zealand or Australia due to Covid-complications, but they’ll need to make some changes should these fixtures eventuate.
Failure to do so could result in some big losses against the All Blacks and Wallabies, two sides that are well on their way to building new gameplans and styles of their own.
The Springboks weren’t altogether bad against the Lions – far from it in fact – but it was a certain style of rugby for a very particular purpose.
Be it the consistent use of box kicks, calling on their big men to win kickable penalties, or their heavy reliance on a strong defence, little about the Springboks gameplan against the Lions was new and original.
There certainly wasn’t any razzle-dazzle on show – nor any intent to pin the ears back and take on the opposing backline outside of any set move.
Compared to the typical nature of rugby presented by the All Blacks, and the Wallabies for that matter, the Springboks certainly stuck with their unique brand of rugby which served them well ultimately.
They’re the world champions after all, why shouldn’t they flex their muscles?
The problem is that they’re not really flexing anything at all.
What sits ahead of the inspirational Siya Kolisi and his gunners is a far different prospect, not an altogether stronger one but certainly one which pulls far different strings.
Come that 100th test encounter against the All Blacks on September 25th in Dunedin, the Springboks will need to come prepared to play more aggressively rather than sitting back and waiting for the mistakes to come.
They’ll have had a few matches against Argentina and Australia by then, but the All Blacks should have figured out some of their early-season intensity woes with a total of seven home fixtures under their belts come late September.
A simple eye test shows that the Springboks forward pack can more than match the All Blacks on size and versatility.
Their lineout is typically second to none, the scrum and maul not too far behind, and their work in the breakdown trenches should pose a significant uptake on the ferocity that Fiji possessed, something that clearly took the All Blacks by surprise back in July.
The Boks would do well to keep using what works well but, equally, their worst preparation for the trip down under would be to stick with the same formula in its entirety.
It’s crucial that they find a way to break open the game, especially with a good counterattack when the opportunity arises. They’ve got the abilities in the backline to do so, just give a guy like Cheslin Kolbe a chance to work his magic out wide rather than only utilising him under the high ball.
Underpinning the Springboks’ key to victory against the likes of the Wallabies, and especially the All Blacks, will be the element of surprise.
They’ve got to bring something different on top of their clear and obvious strengths because the homework is already being done by their impending opposition to nullify what was on show in Cape Town over the past few weeks.
But alas, who could blame the Springboks if they stuck with the same old thing though? It did win them the World Cup back in 2019.
One just can’t help but wonder if the winning formula for this particular Rugby Championship has moved on somewhat.