Springboks hit back at criticism of conservative tactics

Colin Newboult

Eben Etzebeth of South Africa carries the ball forward in rolling maul during the 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour second test between South Africa and BI Lions at Cape Town Stadium on 31 July 2021 ©Ryan Wilkisky/Sports Inc

South Africa have responded to criticism of their conservative tactics by insisting they do not get the credit their success deserves.

The Springboks crushed the British and Irish Lions 27-9 at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday to take the series to a decider, but the second Test was an ugly spectacle dominated by brutal forward exchanges and kicking.

Each half lasted over an hour due to incessant stoppages, the sluggish pace a result of the officials reviewing a host of decisions and the world champions’ ability to dictate the speed of the game.

New Zealand coach Ian Foster is among those unimpressed, saying that the match “put me to sleep” and that the rivals are “almost afraid to play”, while even former Springboks boss Peter de Villiers described the national side as “very, very, boring”.

Isn’t bad for the game

But South Africa forwards coach Deon Davids denies their suffocating game plan is a bad advert for the game.

“No, not at all. It’s a spectacle. I think it’s fantastic. Rugby has always been about a physical battle on-field, but also a battle where opponents try to outsmart each other, whether that’s on or off-field,” Davids said.

“The competitiveness and talent shown by both teams on-field – it’s good for world rugby. And if we can continue being competitive at this level and aspire to be better, then rugby in South Africa will just get better.

“The same narrative was there when the Boks won the 2019 Championship. The same thing was there when they won the World Cup. It’s still the same narrative.

“It’s surprising that the effectiveness of this in terms of getting good results is not seen. There’s always a plan behind everything.

“When we execute stuff, it’s not about being boring, it’s about understanding what we want to achieve.

“By doing that we’ve created enough opportunities to be able to play with the ball in hand and score tries.

“I believe in our approach and what it leads us to. We will just get better in terms of what we’re doing.”

Unsurprisingly given their emphatic victory, Davids said South Africa were “quite happy” with how the second Test was refereed.

That verdict marks a significant departure from the build-up when director of rugby Rassie Erasmus released an extraordinary hour-long video critiquing the officials’ performance from a week earlier that could be punished by World Rugby.

The Springboks were spared any disciplinary fallout from Saturday’s grudge match, despite Cheslin Kolbe’s challenge on Conor Murray appearing to be a red card offence.

Only Lions prop Kyle Sinckler has been cited for an alleged biting incident.

“We’re quite satisfied with the process that was followed and that was put into action between the coaching staff and World Rugby,” Davids said.

“Whatever decision they take, we will trust that process and will abide by that going forward. Whatever happens in the game, there is a thorough process.”

Talisman number eight Duane Vermeulen will train with the Springboks on Monday afternoon in a bid to prove he has recovered from an ankle injury in time for Tuesday’s team announcement.