‘Safety first’ isn’t the right rugby attitude going into the World Cup

CAPE TOWN – “You’re not going to win the World Cup by scoring eight tries more than your opposition.”

That’s how Rassie Erasmus sees it, and it doesn’t take a PhD in sentiment analysis to figure out just what that means.

Test rugby, or “tactically smart” rugby, is the way to go if the Springboks want to reconnect with ‘Old Bill’ in Japan later this year, or so feels Erasmus.

The Springbok coach addressed the media in Cape Town on Tuesday following the recent alignment camp with 10 Stormers players.

During that media session, Erasmus brought up a number of issues, with most of them centred around the World Cup.

One of those was his satisfaction with South Africa’s Super Rugby sides employing an approach that “resembles Test rugby”.

Now you could make a number of deductions on what the SA director of rugby means by that.

But you won’t have to, as Erasmus made it clear that it’s not only about attack at the rugby spectacle.

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Springbok players during a training session in Pretoria in October 2018. Photo: EPA/Kim Ludbrook

"Last year, it seems like there was a big improvement on attack across the board. This year, the local sides have moved towards an approach that resembles Test rugby,” he said.

“There’s been a lot of positive play in terms of the tactical game, and as a national coach that’s what you want to see.”

“It’s good to see a lot of what we did there (with the franchise) has filtered down into the franchises,” said Erasmus, who visited the local teams with his coaching group last year to share information on tactics.

“It’s not only about attack at the World Cup. You are not going to win the title by scoring eight tries more than your opposition.

“There will be times when the momentum of the game swings and you will have to make your chance on goal count. We have to accept that this is a big part of the game, and crucial to winning the tournament.”

He’s not wrong, it’s not all about attack. But why is “Test match rugby” seen as the way to go, while an attacking approach doesn’t seem to be trusted in the tournament that matters?

It doesn’t have to be either/or. That is a limitation that South African coaches have imposed on themselves for far too long.

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The Springbok coach recently concluded an alignment camp with 10 Stormers players. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Again, I get the message Erasmus is trying to relay – you also have to be tactically strong, especially with regards to your kicking game, you have to defend and you shouldn’t let a shot at goal pass when you have the chance, especially not when there’s scoreboard pressure. But, until now, I don’t think anybody’s figured out how to defend for 80 minutes and get over the tryline.

That approach might work against certain Super Rugby teams, but it won’t work against – dare we say – New Zealand (that win in Wellington might give “rugby traditionalists” the right to argue otherwise, but face it, it was a one-off thing).

The Springboks have the firepower and enough skilful players to contribute more, and they should.

Attacking rugby shouldn’t be seen as a risk.

And while “smart, tactical rugby” might be the safe choice, it won’t bring the same rewards as actually playing rugby will.


Cape Argus

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