Yes, it would be a process …

Thursday morning, and time for a sneak preview of Tank’s Sport24 column …

Tank Lanning

“So where are all you Lambie lovers now?” was the Tweet that came out on Monday morning from a rugby writer that I respect, and together with a Tweet from another respected sports reporter that went something like: “Do you people really think that replacing Kirchner with Taute is going to save this Bok side?” it got me thinking about the Springbok planning and gameplan.

As a Pat Lambie and Jaco Taute (at fullback, ahead of Zane Kirchner) protagonist, I am certainly not expecting them to save or even immediately change the fortunes of the Springboks. As with the eventual inclusion of Johan Goosen, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen, and now Juan de Jongh, these are selections that I see as part of a process toward building a Bok side that plays a more possession based game that looks for continuity via offloads in the tackle rather than bashing into the opposition or chasing kicks that touch heaven.

And while it gives me traumatic heartburn when coaches use words like “Process” and “Execution” in their pre and post match interviews, a change to a gameplan I am describing for a Bok side who’s traditional gameplan has been so fundamentally different, could not happen overnight, and would have to be a process!

It would require not only astute planning from every coach on Heyneke Meyer’s staff, but also, and perhaps most importantly, buy in from said coaches, the players, SARU, and the public. One nay-sayer amongst any of those stakeholders, and the process would be flawed, with the cancer spreading like wildfire around the watercoolers after every loss.

And there would be losses. Patience would be the operative word. Much like a print company morphing into a business that speaks to a digital consumer, there is always pain as one goes through any form of change. The difference? The stakeholders in a print company are limited to the shareholders. The majority stakeholders in the Springboks are you, me and the other 50 million South Africans!

Me, I would be willing to take a few losses on the way to playing a more entertaining and possession based game as I firmly believe that is the future of rugby, and that it will be the only way to take on and regularly compete with the All Blacks, who right now, are not only playing that way, but doing it 20% better than any other side on the planet.

I think I am in the minority, though. South Africans, in general, are a conservative lot. At best, we play to win, but more regularly, we play not to lose. And this is ingrained at a very young age where school rugby has become about winning and moving up the much published rankings, rather than entertaining through scoring tries. This then permeates upwards, generating players with big boots, lightning pace and the ability to tackle anything that moves. But perhaps lacking the skill (or inclination) to get through a half gap, and offload to a player looking to get into a better space …

Would a Springbok coach ever be given the space and time to engender such change?

So in answer to those questions posed on Twitter, Lambie looked like he was trying to play a game suited more to Morne Steyn, and no I do not think Taute at fullback will “Save” the Boks. But together with De Jongh, and players like Lwazi Mvovo, Raymond Rhule, Paul Jordaan, Goosen, Siya Kolisi and many others, I do think South Africa is starting to produce the players that can play a more possession based game, and that is where we should be heading.

The question is, do we have the coach with the ability and inclination to coach such a gameplan? Picking players for a modern game, yet still coaching a traditional kick and chase game is like asking two wrongs to make a right.


  1. Tank, I was thinking about these very things this morning. Why do I feel so flat even when the Boks squeak a win? Because the Boks could be, should be winning and actually setting the pace in world rugby by simply being brave enough to play some rugby.

    What it takes is a coach who is willing to sacrifice a few losses by picking players who have attacking talent and giving them freedom to express themselves. Why must a coach pick a player based mostly on their defensive ability? Why can’t we pick a team that scares the crap out of the opposition? Who are willing to create a gap and actually pass the ball without fear of being sent back home if they make a mistake.

    Sure play a territory based game but when we are in the strike zone who is going to do the business? Zane? Morne? We need players like Whitehead and Jordaan in there now.

      1. The problem with that kind of strategy is if you have a slender lead going into the final minutes anything could happen. Whereas if you have a 20 point cushion you can really demoralize the opposition. So risk free rugby can actually be very risky.

  2. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Meyer got the job over Divvy and Mallett was coaching the Boks today…

  3. I agree with your broad thrust of argument and I also want to see a possession game, but to ask Meyer to coach this possession based style would be more of a mismatch than asking Lambie to play the territory game. Heyneke Meyer was employed to do what he is good at, what he has been successful with, and now that process has to run its course. When it works it’s more than just kick and chase and the fact is that broken play is more likely to lead to tries than structured attack. Patience – otherwise we sound like Campese. And nobody wants that.

    1. That is a very fair comment, and perhaps Meyer does deserve more time … But hells bells, it seems helter skelter at the moment … I am NO Campese fan, but he might just be right re Deans and the Wallabies …

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