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Ken Borland


John McFarland Column: Impressive Boks now launch assault on Salta

Posted on August 25, 2017 by Ken

 

The Springboks, having won impressively last weekend in Port Elizabeth, will now travel to Salta to play Argentina on Saturday and my recollection of this north-western city is that it was blindingly hot and at altitude.

We were there in 2014 and we won right at the back end of the game in temperatures greater than 30⁰ and at more than a thousand metres above sea-level. The heat was the main thing and at kick-off it was still really hot and the guys took time to get into their stride.

But the Springboks have had a nice recovery since Port Elizabeth and are using the best travel plan, I think it works having had experience of that when we won in Argentina in 2015. With this way of travel, you basically keep the players on South African time and it really helps them.

They have had two good days of prep this week and Salta is quite remote, being nearly 1500 kilometres from Buenos Aires, and it involves a lot of flying, probably three flights, to get there, including one of about three hours from the capital.

They would have spent the whole of Wednesday flying, but it’s obviously in business class so they can sleep and relax. Doing that so close to the game means the players will have better focus on doing the right things to make sure they are 100%, like hydrating or taking sleeping pills. Then once they arrive they can have a stretch and a swim to get their bodies right for the big Test on Saturday. So they will basically arrive, have the captain’s run and play.

The biggest positive with this schedule is that they would have had quality training in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, with extra bodies available from the local unions so they could practise 15 versus 15 and put the needed miles into their legs. When you’re travelling, you generally have only 28 players so that isn’t possible.

Last weekend the Springboks just continued in a similar vein to the French series – they had similar energy and enthusiasm and were full of bounce.

The first half was obviously more of a contest, but it laid the platform for the second half because the Springboks really moved the big Argentine forwards around.

What’s really pleasing to me is that they are really developing a good all-round game. They’re scoring four tries per game and only conceding 1.5 per match; you’ll win a lot of Test matches doing that.

It was also significant that both wings scored tries. Courtnall Skosan produced a great finish from an inside ball from a set play, although maybe he was held in the tackle. That needed to be checked by the referee and it is a rule that needs to be looked at as well. Raymond Rhule then scored off a good run off Jesse Kriel.

The real strength of the Springboks, though, was their scrum.

Coenie Oosthuizen has had a rollercoaster ride for the last four years, but he is a really quality player when he is on-song because he brings so much to the game – impact carries, crashingly brutal defence and his work-rate. He is definitely an international-class tighthead and he, Beast Mtawarira and Malcolm Marx were all fantastic. The front row really destroyed the Argentine scrum, which nobody has really done for the last few years. So you have to credit the whole pack and coach Matt Proudfoot.

It is really significant to have the scrum as a weapon of mass destruction because the whole mindset of the tight five in rugby is to go forward. If your props are putting them under pressure in a primary phase then it really affects their whole game and the easy penalty and yardage gains you can get are also a primary priority for teams.

The All Blacks versus Australia game was effectively over as a contest before halftime and it’s really worrying that that happened to a Wallabies team that was ranked fourth before the game and were 54-6 down early in the second half. The All Blacks were obviously keen to send a message to the rest of the world that they are back on track after drawing with the British and Irish Lions.

But the Springboks were also able to get a good win, that lifted them into fourth in the rankings in place of Australia, and now an away bonus point would be like gold, although home bonus points are important too.

Hopefully the Springboks will get another good win in Salta that will set them up for the Australians in Perth.

 

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.

 

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