Loose Pass

Date published: November 15 2016

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with strategic direction and passports…

A question of culture

It was not all that long ago that the powers that be saw that all was wrong. The great leaders and influencers of the era gathered together in response at the behest of those powers.

They deliberated. They presented. They mulled. They exchanged views. And once the finest foods had been eaten, sweetest fruit juices drunk and enough fingers had been jabbed in consternation, these leaders and influencers faced their public and announced the upshots of their ponderings.

They announced that they had found what they believed could be the answer, they said. They would continue to strive for excellence, they said. Continuous improvement was a watchword, they said. Objective, Strategy and Tactics had all been focussed upon, they said, with a new direction plotted, they added.

Solutions for the important issues had been found, they concluded. This time it was right, it would work, and nobody would need to be subjected to vicious media campaigns in response to poor performance ever again.

Few of these measures were actually explained of course, leaving the public to draw heavily on damaged reserves of hopeful and wary trust.

But there was hope among the proletariat. Maybe, just maybe, this time the leaders and influencers would have set in motion the wheels of change, would have recognised the need to dig in and adapt to the evolutions of the modern environment. Maybe this time there would be action.

And what did South African rugby get instead? Pieter-Steph du Toit on the flank.

Don’t blame the soldier there though, blame the generals for a strategy as archaic as it was botched. If that team and performance against England was evidence of what the Springboks have been working on since the indaba, the next time South Africa’s rugby intelligentsia shuts itself in a room it should be locked from the outside and the keys flung into the shark-infested waters of Gansbaai.

Some – including Allister Coetzee – have attempted to draw positives from the performance, pointing out that the Boks had the best of the opening half-hour. That’s not good enough on two counts. Firstly, 80-minute matches are rarely won over 30 minutes.

Secondly, it fails to acknowledge that England were a mixture of rusty and over-eager during that period. Once England had settled down they won the last hour 37-15 and seven of those South African points came in the final moments once England eased off the gas.

Then there was this little conversational gem from Coetzee: “We had six attacking lineouts in difficult weather conditions. During the Rugby Championship most of them were in our own half. It shows there is improvement in the execution of our plan.”

You didn’t! SIX LINEOUTS? WOOOOOWWW! Maybe SAB Miller can get cracking on a celebratory ‘Kings of getting the opposition to concede set-piece possession’ brew. Or maybe those great leaders and influencers should reconvene and examine closer why six attacking lineouts, if such an integral part of the plan, yielded so very little in the way of substantive gain.

Square pegs were in round holes all over the Bok team. England took one look at them, whipped up a quick plan, and promptly pushed out the ill fits. South Africa’s strategy was built around size and power, with some – the maligned Du Toit one obvious – selected in positions to fit the long-term strategy and not the current requirement.

But there is perhaps one glimmer of hope…

A large portion of contemporary strategic theory revolves around selecting one very specific strategic direction and doing it better than anybody else. South Africa’s rugby culture in the past has often been just that – never clearer than under the direction of Jake White. A strategic focus on size and aggression does fit the genetics of their rugby populace.

If the gameplan on Saturday reflected a desire to do just that over the next World Cup cycle or two – it’s difficult to escape that conclusion – then good luck to them. It’s not theoretically wrong.

However this, currently, is a glaring difference between South Africa and the rest: Australia owned by New Zealand? Michael Cheika comes out guns blazing but concedes his team were not good enough. Eddie Jones thrashes an old and respected adversary but can only find it within himself to give his team six out of ten.

Wales are humbled by Australia and one of the world’s finest centres is dropped. New Zealand lose for the first time in 18 matches and Steve Hansen says “we clearly didn’t get a few things right.” South Africa are negated by England and Allister Coetzee thinks that six attacking lineouts are a yardstick with which to measure progress.

If the Boks are going to work on a strategy of physical domination over the next few years, it might be time to man up the soundbites as well. Strategy is culture as much as it is plan.

No.

We’ve done this little bit before, but in the interests of maintaining a campaign for positive change rather than sinking into apathy and letting the worst happen a la Hillary supporters, we’re going to keep it up. Cornell du Preez simply should not be on Scotland’s teamsheet this week. He is not Scottish.

You could pop him atop Ben Nevis for 24 hours in the dark of winter wearing nothing a vest made of kippers, a kilt and some traditional highland underwear, with nothing to eat but bags of boiled sheep intestines, under instructions to internalize a songsheet of navigation instructions to English soldiers. He still would not be Scottish.

End the three-year residency rule. End it now. It’s making a mockery of international rugby from top to bottom.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

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