Cape Town – After the one-dimensional Springboks came unstuck in the semi-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the South African rugby public came to a general consensus – we need to adapt.
It wasn’t so much about the Springboks as it was the rest of the world, as nations like Argentina and even Scotland looked to play expansive, ball-in-hand rugby at the tournament with success.
Molded on the All Black blueprint, the rest of the world had decided that it was time to evolve … and the Springboks cannot be left behind.
Adopting this new philosophy – hopefully a bit easier on the eye – will be a big part of the task for whoever the new Springbok coach is.
But when Heyneke Meyer suggested just after the tournament that the Springboks could not play an All Black game due to their lack of skills, eyebrows were raised.
Was Meyer right? Had South African players been so accustomed to forward-oriented, 10-man rugby throughout their development that by the time they had turned professional they were lacking certain skills that come with playing running rugby?
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has answered with an emphatic ‘no’, pointing to the schoolboy rugby structures in the country as his reason why.
“It takes a while to pick up those sets of skills if you haven’t got them by the time you become a professional,” said Larkham.
“But there is a strong competition over here … something that is quite unique around the world … how many matches they play in schools. We don’t get that in Australia … the base is here.
“So those accusations are a bit unjustified.”
According to Larkham, it is not that the skills aren’t there, but they need to be channelled through the implementation of a different mind-set if they are to be honed.
“It’s probably more the style that they’ve adopted to play over the last few years,” said Larkham.
“That’s traditionally been the way in South Africa. Kick the ball and use your forwards to dominate the other forwards pack. There is good skill over here and if the style changes then there is the skill there to use that.
“If you look at some of the teams over here … if you take the Cheetahs, they have unbelievable skills. They can blow anybody off the park, if they get it right.”
While the Cheetahs and the Lions appear to be the most enterprising of the South African sides with ball-in-hand, the Stormers and the Bulls are playing a bit of catch-up in that endeavour while the Sharks look content to win games however they can.
The bad news for the Stormers, if Larkham’s assessment of their situation is anything to go by, is that they may have to be patient under the new philosophy of coach Robbie Fleck.
“12 months … I would say, provided the base was there,” was his response when asked how long a side would need to work at a new style before its started baring fruit.
The Stormers are very much at the beginning of that time-frame, so if Larkham is right then it might be a bitter/sweet season for the Capetonians.
The Brumbies take on the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.
Kick-off is at 19:15.