Injured Springbok number eight Warren Whiteley says the Boks may well be missing the influence of attack coach Swys de Bruin at the ongoing Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Lions coach withdrew from the team on the eve of their departure for Japan after citing personal reasons and has done most of his coaching from the comfortable confines of satellite broadcaster SuperSport’s studios in Randburg.
De Bruin has since been replaced by Irishman Felix Jones, who has been retained under the convoluted job description of opposition defence analyst.
But Whiteley, speaking at a Mastercard-hosted viewing of the Springboks’ Pool B game against Italy in Johannesburg on Friday, felt his franchise head coach was sorely missed.
Despite a final scoreline of 49-3, which brought a much-needed bonus point win courtesy of seven tries, the Boks came under fire for their backs not complementing an intense performance by the forwards by displaying the creativity of a blunt object.
While diminutive winger Cheslin Kolbe – the game’s man of the match courtesy of his two tries, an assist and a typically lionhearted effort in defence – towered above everyone performance wise, he was the Boks’ lone attacking force.
Rassie Erasmus’ men went into the break 17-3 up despite dominating all aspects of the game. But they failed to turn that advantage – which was tempered somewhat by referee Wayne Barnes calling for uncontested scrums for the second quarter of the first half – into an avalanche of points until after Italy went down to 14 men after a red card to prop Andrea Lovotti in the 43rd minute.
“Test match rugby is a bit different,” Whiteley explained, “but not having a guy like coach Swys there is a massive loss. Not having an attack specialist there constantly driving principles of attack is a loss.
“We’re creating opportunities, but we’re not finishing. Our shape is probably not as good as it could be. If you look at the past few games, we’ve been a very defence-oriented team – and it must be commended because it puts other teams’ skills under pressure and we create opportunities from turnover ball – but we’re just not as clinical as we’d like to be at this stage.”
That said, Whiteley said he had been impressed with Erasmus’ additions to his starting XV for the Italy game with the quarterfinals in mind.
“I think the changes that were made today really put their hands up. Guys such as Beast [Tendai Mtawarira], Lood [de Jager] and Bongi [Mbonambi] were exceptional.
“Obviously, they’re still part of the 23, but I’m not sure about the starting XV going forward. I’m not exactly sure who he’s going to pick as his starting XV, but, as you’ve seen, the guys are putting their hands up when they are picked. And while it was Italy, today was a commanding performance.
“So there’s healthy competition in the squad and a guy like Damian Willemse also brings something different to the squad.
“Seeing Damian [de Allende] play a bit of outside centre today said something about Rassie’s mind-set as to where he could slot in as cover for [the injured Jesse Kriel]. So I think the 23 will be the same for the quarterfinals, but I’m not sure who’ll be in the starting line-up.”
With the Springboks bench having been a six-two split in favour of the forwards against Italy, and the well-lamented bluntness in attack, Whiteley surprisingly said he still believed the Boks have the players to chase, as opposed to close down, a game despite one of those players on the bench being a slow Frans Steyn. “I know we’re going to create opportunities.
“We saw today that we create opportunities, but we’re just not as clinical. Finishing off those opportunities is the one area where I think the guys will want to improve.”