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Ex-Boks coach blasts 'stupid decision' behind South Africa's downfall

By Sam Smith

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Former Springboks head coach Peter de Villiers has labelled South Africa’s “stupid decision” to leave Super Rugby as a key reason behind their lack of recent international form.

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Following a two-year hiatus from test rugby amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Springboks returned to action this year for the first time since the 2019 World Cup triumph in Japan.

A series victory over the British and Irish Lions throughout July and August appeared to consolidate their status as the world’s best team, as did further victories over Los Pumas in their opening two matches of the Rugby Championship.

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However, back-to-back defeats to the Wallabies has seen South Africa lose its place as the world’s top-ranked side to the All Blacks, who they will face off against this weekend in Townsville in what will be their 100th clash against each other.

The Springboks have been lamented for their conservative attacking tactics as they also struggled to cope defensively against Australia’s far more expansive style of play during their matches over the past fortnight on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane.

Speaking to Newstalk ZB, de Villiers attributed that in part to South Africa’s decision to leave Super Rugby after the competition was halted and eventually abandoned last March due to the initial outbreak of the virus.

Since then, Super Rugby has undergone a significant overhaul, with the New Zealand, Australian and South African franchises playing their own makeshift domestic versions of the competition over the past two seasons, while the Jaguares and Sunwolves were disbanded.

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The Kiwi and Australian sides went on to play each other in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman this season, and all 10 of those teams will play alongside new expansion franchises Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua in the revamped Super Rugby Pacific in 2022 and 2023.

The future of Super Rugby now appears to be focused solely in the Asia-Pacific region rather than across the entire southern hemisphere, as South Africa’s four franchises have shifted north to play club rugby in Europe.

Joining the newly-formed United Rugby Championship – previously known as the Pro14 – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers will now play alongside Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian teams on a full-time basis beginning this weekend.

De Villiers said he disagreed with South Africa’s call to abandon their SANZAAR counterparts at Super Rugby level as he believes it has contributed to making the Springboks less competitive than the All Blacks and Wallabies.

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“That was a stupid decision that somebody has made,” he told Newstalk ZB.

“I don’t see any financial gain in that thing. I don’t see any rugby specific role that gives the game the edge that we need. That was a very, very bad decision that we made.

“I think we gave up that competitive edge where we could mould players at a lower level at Super Rugby so they can be ready at the stage where they can represent their country.

“We have stolen from ourselves something that was very good for the game and we are paying the price.”

The 64-year-old coached the Springboks between 2008 and 2011 and was in charge when South Africa achieved a rare clean sweep of the All Blacks during the 2009 Tri Nations, the last year of which New Zealand lost the Freedom Cup.

De Villiers, who also guided the Springboks to two further victories over the All Blacks in 2008 and 2011, said his squad at that point in time was far superior to the current crop of players South Africa currently have.

“I don’t think we can match them [the All Blacks] at any level,” he told Newstalk ZB.

“We had a midfield with Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Adrian Jacobs, guys who could at any time be a game breaker. Then we had players around the wings like Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen, people who from nothing [could] create something.

“I don’t think we have that [now]. In the pack we had natural, strong players and we used the back to bring the forwards into the game and it works for us. It’s going to be tough [this Saturday].”

De Villiers also waded in on the criticism of South Africa’s negative attacking play as he said their high volume of kicking needs to be replaced by more creative freedom with ball in hand.

“There’s no traditional style of South African rugby. There’s only a style of the coaches. Kicking will always be part of the game. It was there for years. With Daniel Carter then at the world’s best, you could count how many times he did kick.

“So, kicking was always part of the game, but you can’t build your game plan around kicking. Kicking should be a part of the game and not the game itself.

“In South Africa’s case before the World Cup, they started this kind of game plan, and at this stage everybody else is now so happy with chasing and [going] for the 50-50 balls in the air.

“Nobody has worked on their own creative skills and if the kick doesn’t work, they can’t fall back on something.”

After playing their centennial test at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Saturday, the All Blacks and Springboks will close out their Rugby Championship campaigns against each other on the Gold Coast next week.

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Ex-Boks coach blasts 'stupid decision' behind South Africa's downfall

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