What the Boks need to do to win on the road
As they go to Australia and New Zealand, a top expert tells what he's learned that will give them an edge
The Springboks meet the Wallabies in Brisbane this weekend and the major question, besides winning, is whether the Boks can win on the road and have they addressed reasons why they battle away from home?
Since the 2015 World Cup the Boks have won only three away Tests in 15 attempts while they haven’t picked up a win in Australia for five years. The Boks have beaten the Wallabies in Australia only three times in 22 attempts this century.
Next week Siya Kolisi and his team play against the All Blacks in Wellington where the Boks haven’t won since Pieter Rossouw scored a famous try in 1998. In New Zealand the Boks are winless since 2010.
It’s obviously a tough few weeks ahead for a team that has already lost three of its six Tests in 2018 and lost both matches away from home – against Wales in Washington and Argentina in Mendoza.
The coming weeks and months will give an insight as to whether coach Rassie Erasmus is not only building a strong team, but a team that keeps performing in adverse environments. To be a top team means to win on the road.
Sports psychologist Pieter Kruger, who worked with the Boks between 2012-2015 when they won 17 of 28 away Tests (60%), believes that winning on the road requires very specific management of time and mentality.
He recently spent time with Ireland and their coach Joe Schmidt and was impressed by the attention to detail the world’s number two team puts in to managing their time, particularly on the road.
Kruger has no first hand insight of Erasmus’ methods, but he does believe that to be successful there are steps that any management group could take to improving the daunting prospect of away wins.
“In Super Rugby and in Rugby Championship SA does have a more difficult travel schedule than its competitors, but that's not a valid excuse any more,” Kruger said.
“We have to better at many small things to manage these challenges.”
Kruger’s academic work is finding those “marginal gains”, which has become a well-worn phrase first used publicly by David Brailsford, boss of cycling’s Team Sky.
But jargon aside, to be successful at any elite sports level, and more so away from home where travel fatigue, hostility and alienation are factors, requires a system that has techniques to deal with those issues.
“I was with Ireland a few weeks ago I was impressed with what I saw. The performance systems, the attention to detail, the marginal gains and the processes to manage these things are excellent,” Kruger said.
“I get the feeling some coaches and teams in SA don’t believe in that finer science, believing the big things will take care of the small things. But at the cutting edge of sport, where you are dealing in such fine margins, that if you don’t pay attention to manage them, you are going to run into problems.
“A lot of this should be common sense by now, after 22 years of professionalism, but as I have discovered, common sense is not always that common. Unless you have a high performance framework with all the nitty gritty details in it, that will actually put these things in place, you are unlikely to be successful.”
Putting all these processes into play won’t guarantee success because other top teams are also working on improving their cultures and skills. But not doing them, or not doing them well, is guaranteed to see teams fall further behind.
“I’ve spent the last six months at various sports and I’m convinced that not dealing with the marginal gains is where our rugby is lacking,” Kruger said. “We are so busy looking at the big building blocks, which is still important, but not enough to excel and break out of the middle of the pack.
“To edge yourself into the top position comes down to how well you do the seemingly small things. Sleep, recovery, how you prepare for on-field eventualities (such as creating your own energy away from home that a roaring home crowd would give you) and how you communicate as a group when the pressure is on, are just some of the marginal aspects that need to be put right.”