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Boring Boks?

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Post by No 7&1/2 Fri 27 Aug 2021, 8:43 am

Another piece from XV, Will Owen.


'Jacques, Siya, thanks for your time. Congratulations on the win. Your style of play is very boring, though. Have you maybe considered missing more tackles so us neutrals can enjoy the game some more?’

If you were to ask your elders who their favourite rugby players to watch were, they’d probably list off names like Gareth Edwards, David Campese and Christian Cullen. Edwards; a man who could slip through any gap, could reverse-pass with both hands and gave countless scoring passes. Campese; could change direction at the drop of a hat, gave sumptuous no-look passes and scored the second-most tries in international rugby history. Cullen; always played with his head up, could see space while blindfolded and had a sense of balance to die for.

Do you ever wonder who the current crop of rugby fans’ answer will be to this question in years to come?

Growing up, this writer’s favourite player was Shane Williams. Not only did he have a mouth-watering finishing ability, but his willingness to create was unlike any winger in world rugby. Ten years on from Williams’ retirement, most international wingers are a bit bigger than Shane was, but Cheslin Kolbe has taken the mantle of rugby’s greatest hotstepper. But more importantly than that, he plays in the best team in the world.

With their heavy, nasty pack, South Africa have developed the greatest set-piece in the world; coupled with a superlative kicking strategy and a magnitude-9 defensive line. Are these not the fundamentals of how to win rugby matches?

Judging by some of the discourse on Kolbe’s South Africa, you’d imagine their tactic is to boot the ball off the field, all sit in a circle and listen to Handré Pollard deliver a lecture on War and Peace while the opposition run in try after try. Now that would be a boring sight for a South African fan. In actuality, Jacques Nienaber’s side have developed a simple but effective game plan that suits their personnel to a T.

With their musclebound, gnarled pack, South Africa have developed the greatest set-piece in the world; coupled with a superlative kicking strategy and a magnitude-9 defensive line. Are these not the fundamentals of how to win rugby matches? Is it not common knowledge that the best way to beat an opposition is to hit them hard, starve them of possession and play in their half?

Let’s address some of the comments that are being made. Because if I don’t, Nienaber certainly will have to. After the Boks beat Argentina with aplomb, pundit and former South Africa coach Nick Mallett stated: “Don’t criticise South Africa for playing this type of Test match when they can win.” During every single press conference, Nienaber is asked to defend the Boks’ style of play as though he’s up in front of the jury. They have won a treasure trove of silverware. Let me tell you, no South African fan is moaning at their team for being ‘boring’.

Let’s return to the question I posed earlier. Who will South African fans describe as their favourite player in years to come? Pieter-Steph du Toit? Lukhanyo Am? Frans Malherbe? Du Toit; the hardest hitter in the game whose tackle choice is always bang on. Who cares if he can sidestep? Am; always wins collisions, never loses the ball. Defensively flawless. Don’t hate him for not attempting pointless chip-and-chases. Malherbe; If you want to moan about his lack of 30-metre miss-passes, I challenge you to scrummage against him.

Sure, if we saw the Boks play more expansively, it may be more exciting to the neutral but it may decrease their chances of winning, which, it’s worth remembering, is the point of international rugby.

It’s unbelievable that this needs justifying, but the only people whose entertainment Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus care about is that of themselves, their coaches, players and supporters. And what’s more entertaining than winning? Well, nothing. Think twice before asking them if they want to adapt their game plan. Sure, if we saw the Boks play more expansively, it may be more exciting to the neutral but it may decrease their chances of winning, which, it’s worth remembering, is the point of international rugby.

Territorial rugby is what wins matches at the moment. There is a beauty to it, which may take some getting used to. Watching a half-back find space and pump a ball into a backfield is just as difficult as some of the ‘flashier’ skills in rugby. This won’t always be the case. At some point, attacking rugby will naturally become the trend again, at which point it will become valid to ask the Boks why they aren’t complying – unless they’re still winning.

We have established that South Africa have no obligation to play a certain way or entertain anyone outside of their support group, so long as they are winning. The next question: is the Springboks’ style of play really that boring? I mean, let’s have a quick think about some of the tries they’ve been scoring while people have thrown this discourse in their faces.

Against Argentina, Aphelele Fassi scored an absolute ‘worldie’ in which Elton Jantjies placed an inch-perfect kick to bounce into the winger’s hands, centimetres out from the touchline. From the level of precision on the skill, to Fassi’s juggle and near-breach of the white line to his left, is that not the definition of why sport is entertaining?

Lukhanyo Am scored a blinding try in which Cheslin Kolbe burned a world-class defender in Chris Harris, got hit hard by Elliot Daly and still managed to muster an offload to score… what’s not to love?

Lest we forget, there’s also the South Africa A game against the Lions. There’s no double standard here – if people wanted to claim that was a full South Africa team at the time (which it was – and an entirely legitimate strategy from Erasmus), we’ll credit them as a full South Africa team now. Am scored a blinding try in which Kolbe burned a world-class defender in Chris Harris, got hit hard by Elliot Daly and still managed to muster an offload to score… what’s not to love?

Long story short, the Springboks don’t need yours truly to back them up. They’ll be very pleased to continue executing a world-beating game plan and frustrating the world’s rugby fans who aren’t paying enough attention to realise the Boks don’t care if it’s entertaining them. International rugby is better for having a good Springbok side, and while the discourse of ‘boring rugby’ may be loud now, the history books will tell you Nienaber’s side have won a Rugby Championship, a World Cup and a Lions series. They certainly won’t tell you it sent neutral fans from England to sleep.

One more time, I will reiterate the importance of ‘entertainment’ in international rugby. Williams was my favourite player growing up. A master entertainer, he felt like a bit of a one-man team at times. Kolbe, however, has won a World Cup and a Lions series. He is a physically small cog in rugby’s largest, most high-functioning machine. For anyone who enjoys watching their team win, he is one of many players in this Springbok side who is a joy to watch.'

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Post by Old Man Fri 27 Aug 2021, 9:40 am

The criticism from many has been scathing on the Springbok game plan, especially from the Antipodes.

Complaints of how they illegally contest the rucks, kick too much, scrum, basically every facet of their play is criticised.

Many call it negative rugby.

I personally have two issues that frustrates me as a Bok supporter.

The time wasting, however I think it was part of a ploy to be able to get through 80 minutes whilst they weren't match fit. There has been much criticism about this in the media as well, however time wasted was not only down to the Springboks.

My per peeve, and it has been for a while is they need to improve their willingness to play ball in hand 10%-15% more, and extend their attacking play to a bit more than the opposition 22. Their attack in phase play is predictable, need to shift the point of contact more, have support runners on the shoulder to offload to, run a few better angles in order to move away from crashball runners doing the same thing over and over. Their attacking play shows statistically 1.1 pass per run, that is too conservative.

Other than that, their counter attack, kick pass attack, maul attacks etc has been potent.

The reality is the Springboks aren't very much liked at the moment. It started last year when they withdrew from the RC, the Antipode fans currently hate just about anything in Green, Rassie has obviously added to the hate, so the Springboks are now seen as fair game.

The next four tests will be telling in whether the Springboks are on the right track and where they will need to improve.

The Aussies and Kiwis play a fast pace, run the ball with no prejudice and will exploit every weakness the Boks have. The Boks may well get more opportunities to attack purely based on high risk rugby can create more opportunities.

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Post by GeordieFalcon Fri 27 Aug 2021, 9:53 am

They can play however they want...its bloody effective. If teams dont like it...they need to find a way to beat them. Simple as that.
And stop Whinging.


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Post by geoff999rugby Fri 27 Aug 2021, 10:12 am

Aussies whinging - who would have thought it Whistle

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Post by GeordieFalcon Fri 27 Aug 2021, 10:20 am

Quite...

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Post by doctor_grey Fri 27 Aug 2021, 10:48 am

Summed up in a nut shell:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK7fEjrqabg

or

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RAlrzcdfRY

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Post by GeordieFalcon Fri 27 Aug 2021, 11:05 am

Spot on Doc....

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Post by No 7&1/2 Fri 27 Aug 2021, 11:26 am

I think there are a few cliches around this. Plenty of ways to skin a cat, and given a strength of limitation of teams and players mean that you can aim to score points in a number or ways going from scrummaging to length of the field tries. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. I've quite happily watched Saracens when they were riding high and Exeter and been as enthralled as watching Harlequins last year. So certainly a team playing well and top of the tree are entertaining to watch for me no matter the style. I do think that a contrast of styles make great viewing as well as in the Prem final last year.

I think it's also true that the win/loss stats can colour the view of how entertaining certain teams/styles are viewed. England last Autumn were dire to watch but they got over the line, still got plenty of criticism. England were dire in the 6Ns but lost and got more. I guess it's got something to do with the perception of what else could be achieved with a different approach ie could it better if SA were to grant a few more passes to what looks like and explosive backline (and a very good back 3) or whether it is seen as this is their peak. If win/loss is the most important thing then 1 bounce of the ball can lead to elation or doom and gloom (think Kipling put it better).

I'll hold my hands up and say I didn't bother to watch SA against Argentina (bar 1 half) these last couple of weeks, after seeing the tripe served up by them and the Lions and the seemingly certain result I wasn't bothered. I'll certainly catch the games against Aus and NZ as the games imo will be entertaining.

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Post by Old Man Fri 27 Aug 2021, 12:26 pm

Alan Quinlan isn't a fan of the Springboks either. Can't remember if I have ever heard him saying anything positive about SA rugby.

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Post by The Oracle Fri 27 Aug 2021, 1:31 pm

Wales were criticised a lot under Gatland for playing a boring game based on phase after phase of bish bash bosh and crash ball 12, 10 minutes plus camped on the opposition line trying to grind over a try, etc. And a lot of the criticism was from Wales fans! But it did coincide with probably our most successful period in international rugby since the 70s. OK, not the sort of level of success as the Boks such as winning Lions tours and World Cups. But numerous Grand Slams and 6N non-grand slam titles, more competitive at World Cups (a couple of semis), etc. So it's hard as a Welsh fan not to defend when you've grown up with the tripe of the 80s and 90s! Winning stuff is always better than losing, regardless of how you play. But can understand the criticism from a neutral who doesn't really care whether Wales (or the Boks) win or lose and just want to see entertainment and exciting rugby.
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Post by Old Man Fri 27 Aug 2021, 1:43 pm

Well at the end of the day we have a choice, if it doesn't entertain you, then don't watch.

I saw a guy post a commnet on a forum the other day about how boring the first SA test was against Argentina, then ended with there were only two tries in the match and kept on harping about how crap the match was.

I reminded him that there were in fact three tries scored, and he should pay attention to the match if he wants to pass judgement.

That is the problem with many keyboard warriors, they just follow the general perception out there without even knowing what they are taking about.

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Post by No 7&1/2 Fri 27 Aug 2021, 1:48 pm

I suppose that's an underlying question for me Oracle as to how whether it is boring to either your own fans or to neutrals is affected by a result. If you're a neutral I think you're much more likely to state your opinion on whether going to paint a fence is a better use of time based on what your watching rather than what the result is. After all how much does the quality of, or the type of match you've watched change if the result is 16 17 or 17 16? To me if you are basing entertainment on whether you've won you're not really focusing on whether the match is dull or not?

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Post by No 7&1/2 Fri 27 Aug 2021, 1:48 pm

Old Man wrote:Well at the end of the day we have a choice, if it doesn't entertain you, then don't watch.

I saw a guy post a commnet on a forum the other day about how boring the first SA test was against Argentina, then ended with there were only two tries in the match and kept on harping about how crap the match  was.

I reminded him that there were in fact three tries scored, and he should pay attention to the match if he wants to pass judgement.

That is the problem with many keyboard warriors, they just follow the general perception out there without even knowing what they are taking about.

Had they fallen asleep for one?

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Post by Mr Bounce Fri 27 Aug 2021, 2:01 pm

South Africa are, quite simply, a difficult team to beat. Defensively they are up there with the best and the pack is massive as well as skillful.

I don't see the issue with this. It's up to other coaches to come up with tactics to outfox them. Gatland couldn't, Jones got it wrong in 19 whereas The All Blacks figured it out earlier in the RWC.

Let's not forget that some of England's best games in the 2000s were won by the boot of one Jonny Wilkinson, yet somehow that team get a pass on here.

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Post by The Oracle Fri 27 Aug 2021, 2:05 pm

No 7&1/2 wrote:I suppose that's an underlying question for me Oracle as to how whether it is boring to either your own fans or to neutrals is affected by a result. If you're a neutral I think you're much more likely to state your opinion on whether going to paint a fence is a better use of time based on what your watching rather than what the result is. After all how much does the quality of, or the type of match you've watched change if the result is 16 17 or 17 16? To me if you are basing entertainment on whether you've won you're not really focusing on whether the match is dull or not?

I remember a match under Gatland vs Scotland. It was a real slug fest and finished something like 12-6 or 9-6 or similar and the night was remembered for a lot of scrums resets, etc. A real turgid affair. However, as a fan it was edge of the seat stuff. The tenseness of the close score made it exciting. And the result made it great for Welsh fans. But it probably wasn't exciting for an England or Ireland fan, and I expect we were told as much on here at the time! So 'excitement' is relative and comes with context that often depends on what your involvement is in the game (your team playing vs being a neutral), what is riding on it, the outcome, etc. For me that game was 80 mins of my blood pressure and HR being through the roof, hiding behind the sofa, biting my nails, and then elation at a win (might even have been a GS year so helped towards that). For a neutral is was probably something that they could just glance at now and again and think was boring as there were no tries, lots of kicks, poor discipline and too many scrums restarts. All relative I guess.

On a related note - I remember going to a 7s tournament years back at Rodney Parade. Might have been international teams but can't be sure. Anyway, even though by its nature there were a bucket load of tries and lots of running rugby, by the 3rd game I was bored stiff! The point being that running rugby and scoring tries is not always the be all and end all of rugby. Sometimes even that becomes boring if that's all that happens!
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Post by The Oracle Fri 27 Aug 2021, 2:07 pm

Mr Bounce wrote:South Africa are, quite simply, a difficult team to beat. Defensively they are up there with the best and the pack is massive as well as skillful.

I don't see the issue with this. It's up to other coaches to come up with tactics to outfox them. Gatland couldn't, Jones got it wrong in 19 whereas The All Blacks figured it out earlier in the RWC.

Let's not forget that some of England's best games in the 2000s were won by the boot of one Jonny Wilkinson,  yet somehow that team get a pass on here.

No, they've been criticised plenty on here and the old 606 by non-English fans as being boring rugby! To which the England fans would always reply, 'how many World Cups have you won'!!! And rightly so I guess.
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Post by Old Man Fri 27 Aug 2021, 2:11 pm

I watch the Six Nations, unless it is an intense battle, regardless of score I stop watching. It isn't that I get bored, it is simply a case of some matches I find spellbinding drawn to and others not.

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Post by No 7&1/2 Fri 27 Aug 2021, 4:23 pm

It's hard to pin down boring when there's stuff riding on the match too. And a 12 9 match can be much much more interesting than a match which is higher scoring. That said if every match could be England vs France 2015 I'd be a happy boy and we finished the wrong side of the overall result. I enjoyed that a lot.

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Post by doctor_grey Fri 27 Aug 2021, 5:45 pm

No 7&1/2 wrote:
If you were to ask your elders who their favourite rugby players to watch were, they’d probably list off names like Gareth Edwards, David Campese and Christian Cullen. Edwards; a man who could slip through any gap, could reverse-pass with both hands and gave countless scoring passes. Campese; could change direction at the drop of a hat, gave sumptuous no-look passes and scored the second-most tries in international rugby history. Cullen; always played with his head up, could see space while blindfolded and had a sense of balance to die for.

Do you ever wonder who the current crop of rugby fans’ answer will be to this question in years to come?
Just got off a call with my olde man. Oddly, I had never asked him this question and I wasn't surprised his answers were not exactly aligned with the article:

Officer Wade Dooley
David Leslie

and more modern players:
Jamie Cudmore
Danny Grewcock
Martin Johnson

And Saints:
Pat Lam
Buck Shelford

And the French:
Olivier Merle
Sebastian Chabal

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Post by Sgt_Pooly Sun 29 Aug 2021, 9:43 am

Interesting read.

It's a fine balance really. End of the day, Rugby is in the entertainment industry and let's be honest, SA do not play very entertaining rugby for the casual/general fan. They'll always be some of us who enjoy the type of rugby they play (I love a good arm wrestle of a game) but it's just not great viewing.

If they win, do the fans care though?

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Post by eirebilly Mon 30 Aug 2021, 7:26 am

I personally have no issue with the way the Boks play. It may be seen as boring but i do not see it that way. 

Efficiency is probably the most important aspect in sport for me and in rugby, its paramount. So rarely do you see the Boks making silly mistakes, they are a well drilled side who have confidence in each others abilities.

I find watching the Bok's play quite fascinating myself. I would take the complaints as compliments myself as successful sides are usually complained about.

As for the dirty play, the Bok's are as guilty/not guilty as every other side.
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