South African tactics against All Blacks were really puzzling

After South Africa lost to New Zealand in last weekend’s 100th rugby game between the two countries, there has been much criticism of the Springboks’ style of play.

Some have dubbed it boring, others have gone so far as to say it will end up driving crowds away, something that rugby can ill afford.

Given that rugby fans, like all sports fans, are a devoted lot, the Springboks’ supporters have been equally loud in defending their team and backing the way they play.

But it was a bit puzzling to hear the captain Siya Kolisi and coach Jacques Nienabar claim that the strategy they had followed succeeded. It didn’t, unless they were aiming to lose the game.

It is left to each team to devise a style of play which they think will bring them success. At least, that is a logical way of looking at it. One doubts that any team goes into a game seeking to lose.

What was puzzling about the way South Africa played was their approach during the last six or so minutes of the game. Ahead by one point, there were at least two occasions when the Boks had possession midway on the pitch, with far more players on the right side of the field than New Zealand.

On both these occasions, Handre Pollard chose to kick, sending the ball harmlessly back to a New Zealand player. Had he bothered to pass to one of the three players on his right, there was every chance someone could have slipped past the New Zealand defence which was down to one player.

No doubt, South Africa were told what to do by their coach before the game. Kick high, put your opponent under pressure, rush to tackle, and capitalise on the penalties that this approach brings.

South Africa is not incapable of running the ball; they have an excellent set of backs. A number of them hardly touched the ball during the game, with their team kicking on 38 occasions.

Even after the 78th minute, when New Zealand regained the lead, South Africa kept kicking away whatever possession they got. Coaches tell players what to do, but generally leave the final decision to the players on the field. That is only normal, since no-one can predict the course of a game.

With this loss, South Africa put paid to their chances of making any kind of challenge for the title in the four-nation Rugby Championship tournament; New Zealand clinched the trophy with the win.

The final games of the Championship are tomorrow, with Australia and Argentina matching wits, while the New Zealanders and South Africans go head-to-head again.

One wonders if the South Africans will again follow the same method of trying to score: kick high, chase and milk penalties. If they do so, then they may well end up with a similar result.

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