Bok attack for the big and the small

There is no better sight in rugby than a burly prop running a lovely angle at speed to go through a gap and score.

But it’s even better when that prop executed that run after he was prompted to do so and showed the way by his coach.

This is what happened in the second Test of the Springboks’ three-Test series against France, when replacement tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen ran a wonderful line to score.

The only thing that wasn’t subtle about Ooshuizen’s try was that he didn’t attempt to sidestep the last defender, but rather run over him to score.

Coenie Oosthuizen dives over for his try against France on June 17, 2017 Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

And so there were many other examples of how the Boks’ attack showed an improvement after a disastrous 2016, when they seemed to be stuck between two ways of playing the game — they weren’t ultra conservative and they certainly weren’t the Barbarians either.

But this year there seems to be a much clearer objective in terms of how the Boks want approach things. They want to be more creative and play the game at a higher tempo, but at the same time not discard the traditional strengths of South African rugby.

If done right — you have to think that the ultimate goal is to have a long and prosperous marriage between creativity and brute force — the Boks should again take their rightful place among rugby’s best teams.

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For years Bok coaches have been reluctant to go away from the rigid, conservative game plan that have served the Boks well in the past, but has become a bit stale in the decade since Jake White’s team won the 2007 World Cup in France.

South Africa relied on power, uncompromising defence, a great kicking game and a superb set piece to subdue to the opposition. But these days, there isn’t a lot that separates the big teams in the physicality department, and you have to bring something extra to the party to compete week-in and week-out. The All Blacks and Eddie Jones’ England are the top two rugby nations on the planet, because they have been able to produce those special moments more often than not to win matches.

The Boks have become just too predictable.

But a lot of work is going in to change that, and add more strings to the Boks bow on attack. And Springbok assistant coach Franco Smith, who is in charge of the backline, is seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

“It was a great start to install a new game management plan, which the players very happy accept. They were also comfortable and adaptable, so compliments to all of them,” Smith told KweséESPN.

“We are excited about the attack. We don’t want to play or be like anybody else, which is sometimes a misinterpretation of we want to do. For me it’s about using our strengths, what’s been in our DNA over the years, and just add a little bit of extra to it.

“We want to prove to the world and ourselves that we are skilful and have the ability to play with the ball in hand. If you see how the South Africa rugby sides have adapted to that, and the youngsters at Craven Week (the South African schools week), we are happy with it.”

However, this is just the start of the journey, as Smith said they have only taken about three of the proverbial 50 they think they require to be the complete package.

They key is going to be to sustain this way of playing and not discard it along the way, like the two previous Bok coaches did. It’s going to patience and acceptance that it’s always going to work out.

Lionel Mapoe and Elton Jantjies of the Springboks with coach Allister Coetzee Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images

But the players need to be empowered to make play what they see in front of them, and they need to trust the players like flyhalf Elton Jantjies to make the right decisions on attack. And if those decisions don’t come off, the players need to be switched on to change their mindset from attack to defence.

“It’s still a work in progress, and hopefully there is no limit to how much we can get better. We push ourselves and challenge ourselves every day,” Smith said.

“A team that can kick well, drive well and is unpredictable … that is the ultimate goal.

“Your defence also plays a massive role in your attack, because you are going to make more mistakes if you play more with the ball. So if you have a crack, you have to have confidence in your defence to back you up if you make a mistake.

“I think with time we are going to become even better.”

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