by Fanie Heyns

Worrisome times for Bok team

Rugby Championship kicks off in August

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There must be some worried expressions on the Springbok management’s faces after the third test draw against England in Port Elizabeth. England exposed the limitations in Heyneke Meyer’s game plan and also demonstrated exactly what Australia, New Zealand and Argentina need to do to neutralise the Springboks when the Rugby Championship kicks off in August. 

The England game plan was: deny the Springbok forwards space, cut their big ball carriers down to size and don’t allow them go-forward ball.
If you do that, Morné Steyn will drop back in the pocket and will attempt aimless high kicks, which will be easy to defend against.
The England team executed this plan to perfection, and the Boks and Steyn faltered.
The management team must be concerned about Steyn’s form. His place kicking was woeful and his tactical kicking wasn’t much better.
What makes matters worse, is that there is no automatic substitute that can fill his boots.
Johan Goosen is injured, while Elton Jantjies has struggled to reproduce his magical 2011 form this year. He played in a below-par Lions team this year.
Peter Grant has excelled as a place kicker this year, but his tactical kicking is not considered his best suit and he has failed to ignite his backline as the Stormers have battled to score tries.
Steyn kicked eighteen points last year in South Africa’s convincing win against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth.
But this year, he has battled several times during the Super Rugby season. It has been a topsy-turvy season for Steyn, who has followed a poor kicking display by a masterful one, only to disappoint again the following Saturday.
The Boks failed to fire in Port Elizabeth partially because of the absence of the big ball carrier and battering ram Willem Alberts.
His immediate replacement, Jacques Potgieter, was useful defensively but was ineffective as an attacker.
With Alberts back and Dwayne Vermeulen also expected to play in the latter part of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament, South Africa would be well covered in this area.
South Africa will have to do careful planning with regards to the fullback position.
At fullback, South Africa will need another player with the vision to create the overlap. The jury is still out on Patrick Lambie in this regard.
Although Gio Aplon is a wholehearted player, he was not convincing on Saturday. His lack of size is a problem and he is not secure under the high ball.
If you want to use the Meyer blueprint for winning rugby, you need creative backline players.
Frans Steyn’s return will solve part of the riddle. He has improved his passing ability and his use of the grubber has almost set up a JP Pietersen try in the second test in Johannesburg.
South Africa also misses their retired lock legends in Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
Matfield won’t return and it is unlikely that Botha will be available for the Rugby Championship, but their line out skill and enormous capacity at the collisions and breakdowns will be sorely missed in August and September at the World Championships.
There are also no immediate plans to lure Danie Rossouw back.
But even at the age of 33, he could add significantly to South Africa’s reserve strength amongst the forwards.
Questions must still be asked on why Heinrich Brussow has simply been discarded as loose forward.
Is Meyer convinced that he has not adapted to the new rugby rules?
Conspiracy theorists are convinced that bad blood between Brussow and Rassie Erasmus is at the heart of the reason why Brussow is not part of Meyer’s immediate plans.
That would be a pity of course, for Brussow’s abilities as a fetcher could have played a role in the test series against England.
By the way, the SA administrators will have to revisit the drawing board and seek financial support from the private sector in order to improve their central contracts to secure the support of their front line players.
Recently, the country lost the services of CJ Stander to Ireland.
But it’s also a source of concern that senior stalwarts like Jaque Fourie and Guthro Steenkamp could not be lured back to the country.
The superior power of the yen and the Euro were defining factors in them staying loyal to their club teams.
Simply questioning their loyalty and ostracising them from the playing establishment, is the wrong way of solving the mystery.
Ways must be devised to strengthen the South African Rugby Board’s financial resources in order to keep world class players like Fourie and Steenkamp in South Africa.
If South Africa fails to do this, we will be languishing at number three in the world for the foreseeable future.
How many members of the current Springbok under 20 team that won the junior World Cup on Friday, are contracted to South Africa or local franchises and what can be done to keep them in the country for the next five years.
It is an important question, for there are at least eight players in that squad that might feature for the Springboks at the next World Cup.
Is this a ridiculous assessment? Think again: look at the young Springbok forwards and how they dominated the Baby Blacks on Friday.
Assess the excellent form of the young Springbok fly half, Handré Pollard, and the two centres, Jan Serfontein and William Small-Smith, as well as the class of Paul Jordaan out wide.
If South Africa fails to act decisively and proactively now, they will rue their sloppiness within six to nine months from now as other rugby franchises and countries will simply snatch up these potential superstars.
Pat Barnard was the International Rugby Board young player of the year in 2002. He is a South African, but is no longer on the local scene.
He was snatched up by England and was destined to represent them before injuries ruined his progress.
Will Serfontein be lost in a similar way? And Small-Smith and Pollard? Only time will tell…
Fanie Heyns
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