Front Row Grunt

Rugby … with cauliflower ears

Front Row Club

Well done Coenie

Not yet able to dominate on his own ball, or disrupt on opposition ball, but certainly able to do a job, and perhaps that is what you want from your backup tighthead, says Tank Lanning.

Another End of Season Tour match for the Boks, another diabolical pitch. First the skating rink in Cardiff, then the cabbage patch in Edinburgh, and finally the exploding turf of Stade de France. Truly unbelievable, and unacceptable.

The IRB have been prattling on in press release after press release this week about their focus on improving player welfare, but how long before a player breaks his ankle while attempting a kick or side step on pitches like those three?

Ironically though, the poor pitches probably played into the Bok’s hands. Morgan Parra missed a relatively simple kick for poles because of the pitch on Saturday. More inclined to step (until they brought Mathieu Bastareaud on in the second half), the French backs often found themselves slipping instead of stepping). Come scrum time, it meant both teams had to set themselves higher, thus making it more about power, and less about technique. And being 7kgs a man heavier than the French, this all played into the Bok power game.

And what a power game the Boks have got! Not even the All Blacks can live with the brute force that comes via the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Bakkies Botha, Flip van der Merwe, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeuelen. Throw in the ball contesting skills of Bismarck, Francois Louw and Coenie Oosthuizen, and you have a side built for ruling that oh so crucial element of the modern day game – the breakdown.

It may not be pretty, but add accurate kicking, truly exceptional chasing of said kicks, an umbrella like physical defence that sees Jaque Fourie living on the offside line, and you have a side that is incredibly difficult to play against. For the opposition, it must be a bit like playing against a 55m long, 2m high concrete wall with a Mike Tyson type attitude. No wonder they make mistakes!

On Saturday, possessions was fairly even (France enjoyed 49%), BUT … the Boks spent 60% of the match in the French half, and just under 6 and a half minutes in the French 22 (as opposed to the 67 seconds the French spent in the Bok 22). Also, the Boks attempted 140 tackles compared to the 103 of the French. When you have the physical defence of the Boks, and ability to dominate the breakdown, you are pretty happy to see the opposition carry the ball, especially in their own half.

As said, not always pretty, but pretty effective! Thank goodness for Willie le Roux!

A final word on Coenie Oosthuizen at tighthead … The man did well, especially in that one power Bok scrum that splintered the French completely, and bloody good on him for that.

Not yet able to dominate on his own ball, or disrupt on opposition ball, but certainly able to do a job, and perhaps that is what you want from your backup tighthead, especially if he offers so much around the park – like Oosthuizen does.

His technique was simple, and relatively effective on the day – Stick to Bismarck like glue. Based on the premise that two people are stronger than one, it did mean that he went in on the angle on occasion, and will be blown for “Not offering a shoulder” to the loosehead should it become his primary scrumming method.

It leaves the loosehead with two options – either to follow the tighthead in and risk being penalised for scrumming in (should the ref not spot the tighthead doing it first), or splinter with your hooker and risk your pack being dominated like in the one big scrum the Boks got going.

Penalised for collapsing, and short armed twice for going early, together with the pitch playing it’s part as it forced both sides to scrum high, I am yet to be 100% convinced re Coenie being a tighthead, but I am certainly willing to call the jury together again.

He now needs to start at 3 for the Cheetahs during Super Rugby, and see how he goes without the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Bakkies Botha behind him. Question is, will Saturday’s 74 minutes have convinced Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske enough to risk it?

The above first appeared as a column on www.eNCA.co.za

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Author: Tank

Ex WP prop with a fair amount of experience in all things media ...

3 Comments

  1. So if Coenie is still the Bok backup tighthead then who is our number 1? If it is JdP then we’re essentially playing with 7 forwards in all other aspects of the game. Or has Frans Malherbe now jumped ahead of Jannie?

    • And that is the problem playing a guy on the bench who is only backup and cannot start. When Jannie cannot play, you have to bring someone new in. And as it stands that seems to be Malherbe, with Adriaanse and Cilliers, and now Kirsten in the wings. I do think you are being unfair on Jannie though. Sure, slips a few tackles, but by far our best scrummager

  2. Nice article Tank. Great to hear from an experts perspective. Thanks