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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Springbok progress on attack shows that it matters how you win and lose as well

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It was interesting to hear Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber mention, in the aftermath of the 27-13 win over England, that the November tour had been “the most enjoyable four weeks, despite the fact we’ve only won 50% of our games”. I can fully understand why.

The Boks had lost 19-16 to Ireland and 30-26 to France, and then smashed Italy 63-21 and toyed with England at times at Twickenham.

“I thought in terms of the working relationship between the coaching staff, performance staff, and the players, I thought there was clarity and we gelled well,” Nienaber continued.

“Although we didn’t get results in the first two games of the tour, I thought we were in with a chance.

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“We were creative with the plans we made, stuck with them, and gave them a good go. There were other enjoyable times, but I felt this group came up with proper ownership, and that was quite pleasing.”

Those last two sentences are particularly important following the whole Rassie Erasmus saga. It would have been easy for the Boks to produce sub-standard performances against Italy and England and then the off-field drama could be blamed.

The Erasmus situation took a positive step forward after World Rugby engaged with him on what his issues were, and then continuing further dialogue with SA Rugby on the way forward. Who knows, the world champions may just get a 50/50 call go their way in future …

But let’s get back to the actual rugby. Of course, fans of positive rugby will still be crowing about how the likes of Kurt-Lee Arendse, Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux, Damian Willemse and others held onto the ball and took on defences over the last four weeks.

We even saw the Boks launch attacks from inside their 22, which doesn’t happen every day. The penny has finally dropped: You don’t have to play a box-kicking game to relieve pressure, or get into the opposition’s 22 before you utilise a ball-in-hand approach in the search for tries.

This is when Bok rugby is at its best – using the power of the tight five, the scavenging and running lines of the loose trio, the organisation and skill of the inside backs, and the electric pace on the outside. When all that comes together, you get the results that you saw in Genoa and London.

Nienaber is a studious character who likes the technical aspects and is a defence guru. But hopefully the last month has taught him that sometimes you are allowed to let your hair down – even in Test rugby.

WATCH: Peter de Villiers tells Rassie Erasmus to step back in line

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It is about having variety in your arsenal, and knowing when to run, kick or pass. As much as you want to coach it, the mindset is also vital – some players such as Willemse, Le Roux and Arendse just have a feel for playing the situation.

It is still frustrating that the Boks have won just 16 out of 26 Tests over the last two years, with identical records of won eight, lost five in 2021 and 2022. While the World Cup is the ultimate goal, it is also important to maintain consistency in results and performance.

Taking the fight to the opposition and involving creative forces such as Willemse, Le Roux, Arendse and others much more in matches have won the Boks more fans, even when they lost to Ireland and France.

That kind of growth on attack shows that as much as winning is the main thing, it matters how you win and lose as well …

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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