Rugby | Van Graan: Winning comes first

Cape Town – The Irish are in South Africa heavily watered down with key injuries, and as a result the Springboks are overwhelming favourites heading into Saturday’s first Test at Newlands. 

Talk of a ‘new era’ in Springbok rugby has been thrown around ever since the 31-man squad for the three-Test series was announced. 

It is perhaps a bit far-fetched to expect that the Boks, under the tutelage of new coach Allister Coetzee, are immediately going to dazzle on attack. 

It took the Lions three or four years, after all, of internalising their new philosophy before it started bearing real fruit. 

And, as Boks assistant Johan van Graan pointed out on Tuesday, winning is more important than anything at this stage.

“The coach has made it very clear from the beginning that it’s
a new start, but he’s here to win Test matches,” Van Graan told media from Cape Town Stadium.

“A Test match is a Test match.
Obviously we’re going to do some new things, but a game of rugby is about
decision making.

“If the defence dominates you, you’ve got to exit and get in
their half. If you get front-foot ball then you dominate the defence.”

Van Graan added that the set-piece would remain pivotal to any success the Boks had on Saturday.

“It’s play by play for 80 minutes and you’ve got to grind. I
can’t see it being any different, especially in the first 20 minutes,” he said.

“It’ll be
collisions. They’ve got a fantastic rush defence … they’ve got good guys on the

“Experimentation, yes, but it’s about making good decisions and
winning the Test match.”

The Boks do have a backline that suggests they have the potential to be lethal with ball in hand. 

Pat Lambie is expected to start at No 10 with Damian de Allende and Lionel Mapoe outside him while JP Pietersen, Lwazi Mvovo and Willie Roux are likely to make up the back three.

Van Graan said that every player would be encouraged to make their own decisions out on the park.

“You get chosen because you play brilliant rugby and you
make good decisions at your franchise, and that’s exactly what we want at the
Springboks,” he said.

“If it’s on … if there’s space available on a quick tap, then Faf (De Klerk) will take the quick tap, if he’s chosen. Play what you see … but within a
system. I believe the players that are chosen can make those decisions.

“The back three has got a lot speed, they’re
good in the air and I think some of the centres have an unbelievable
opportunity to runs lines.

“But you can only attack what the defence gives you
and we’re going to utilise the space … whether it’s out wide, in front of us or
in behind.”

Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:00 and the starting line-up will be named on Thursday.

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