VENTER IMPROVES DEFENCE
Display delights coach, but more work lies ahead
The Springbok rabble that limped out of Cardiff in 2016 after a record eighth loss of the year have been replaced with a vibrant squad that is unrecognisable from eight months ago.
Coach Allister Coetzee somehow survived the axe and can rightly take as much credit for the turnaround as he should take the blame for the debacle in 2016.
The introduction of Brendan Venter as defence consultant and general life coach for the Boks has been an inspired choice. Whether it was entirely Coetzee’s call is a moot point.
There has clearly been a shift in mentality and attitude by the players. The passiveness on defence and the fog with which they played in 2016 has lifted.
Saturday’s 37-15 win over France clinched the three-match series 2-0 after the 37-14 win at Loftus a week earlier.
The Boks have taken care of business‚ and have done it without being boring men in grey suits. Their business was conducted as if they were a Silicon Valley tech company‚ hatching their plans in chill rooms and delivering the end product wearing jeans and sneakers.
There is new focus and confidence about the 2017 Boks that stem from excellent preparation. But as Coetzee rightly pointed out‚ they are far from the finished product.
They are still mixing the dry and wet ingredients that will only be put in the oven during the Rugby Championship.
The Boks slumped to a record 57-15 loss against the All Blacks at Kings Park in 2016‚ and on Saturday, at the scene of one of his worst days in rugby‚ Coetzee referenced that painful experience as a warning the team has to keep improving.
"It was an unbelievable performance and I’m proud of the way this team has grown over nine months‚" Coetzee said.
"We went through a painful experience [against the All Blacks] but it’s nice to witness what was an outstanding performance [against France]. But it is not perfect yet. We still have a lot of work to do and we are following a process.
"However‚ I’m pleased with all aspects of the game – I’m proud of the set piece‚ the attack and particularly the way we defended in that second half."
France set up a camp that Napoleon Bonaparte would have approved of inside the Bok 22 for most of the third quarter.
Yet they were repelled time and again.
One passage carried on for 27 phases before the Boks won a turnover.
France came back for another 11 phases and were turned over.
And they were not done‚ returning for another skirmish of 14 phases‚ which the tireless and organised Springbok defence kept at bay.
Coetzee rightly pointed out that this period of dominance without the ball was due to the players’ attitude.
But it was also down to a defensive system that the players understand and believe in. All the attitude in the world is worthless if a defender is out of position.
The Boks threw a blanket over the French attack in that crucial period and won the game.
"We were tested by France’s physicality. In the first 10-15 [minutes] of the match, they beat us at just about every collision‚" Coetzee said.
"But the players never panicked and eventually, we got on top of them and started winning the physical battle.
"The team plays for each other and that was shown in the defence tonight.
"They do it for each other. The system does not tackle‚ the players in the system need to make the tackle.
"The reaction time of players‚ to get back on their feet and to get back in the position again‚ that was very rewarding to see.
"We have to play with intensity‚ to bounce off the ground‚ reload and get back in position," Coetzee said.