Home Sport Rugby Confidence high as Boks aerial skills have improved

Confidence high as Boks aerial skills have improved

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“This season was always going to be a challenge to get the aerial skills right, and more so knowing we would be coming to northern conditions, where there is more kicking"

South Africas Duane Vermeulen claims the high ball against Englands Jonny May. Picture: Reuters: Toby Melville

ASSISTANT coach Mzwandile Stick says the Springboks have taken a giant leap forward in the once problematic area of contesting for the high ball.

The Boks’ aerial skills had been lacking under the coaching of Allister Coetzee and Heyneke Meyer, but in 2018 they have improved dramatically, with the likes of rookie wings S’bu Nkosi, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Makazole Mapimpi all winning their fair share of contestable kicks.

Dominated

Also, Willie le Roux has dominated the aerial battle against some of the best exponents of the high ball, while Damian Willemse, Cheslin Kolbe and Handré Pollard have all shown willingness to get up in the air, something that wasn’t always the case in the past.

Against England at Twickenham last Saturday, the Bok wingers – Nkosi and Dyantyi – out-jumped their opponents on more than one occasion, something Stick said was the result of plenty of work put in by the players this year.

“We’re fortunate to have so much talent in the outside backs, guys like Aphiwe and S’bu. We’re in a good space with all this potential in the squad,” said Stick in Paris yesterday.

“This season was always going to be a challenge to get the aerial skills right, and more so knowing we would be coming to northern conditions, where there is more kicking; it was a big work on.

“But the guys worked very hard, and it’s getting better all the time. Some years back New Zealand dominated, and England have also always been good (in the air), but we’re catching up.

“Seeing the confidence in our players (to get up there) is good news for us; we’re getting there, we just need to start dominating now.”

Stick added the Boks were happy with several aspects of their play in the first Test against England, but now needed to make the most of the opportunities they created.

“We just need to fix the mistakes from last week. The positive is we created opportunities against England, around 20, so we’re doing something right but we didn’t convert them. We were our own worst enemy.”

He further said the Boks wouldn’t change much in their approach going into this weekend’s match against the unpredictable French in Paris. “Look, it’s always difficult here, playing France in their own conditions; they’re a passionate side, with physical players. But, despite the loss last week, we’re moving in the right direction, so we don’t really need to change anything.”

Not knowing much about the French, who the Boks rarely play, is always something of a challenge for the coaching teams, but Stick said they would tap into the likes of Gio Aplon, Duane Vermeulen and Cheslin Kolbe, who have either played in France for several years or still do, and know the players and their mindset.

“We’ve got some players in our squad who’ve been around in France, so we’ll certainly take on board what they can contribute,” he said. “We’ll get some information from them, of their experiences of playing here.”