The Indecent and Controversial Proposal
November 7th, 2019
Just for fun ok. Before we get to conspiracies, some background: the Rassie-mind. A man who played most of his test rugby in a team near invincible, until they were not
Just for fun ok.
Before we get to conspiracies, some background: the Rassie-mind. A man who played most of his test rugby in a team near invincible, until they were not. The important point being, that it was a team specifically that were able to, if things didn’t go their way before the break, would come out the tunnel playing and force feeding a completely different strategy. And yes, it helped they had a lot of above average players.
Add to this, later on as coach, Rassie being a very sly operator that took a Cheetah team from always ending up at the bottom of the CurrieCup and have them win it for the first time in 3 decades. An innovator, causing controversy every other day: sitting on the stadium roof (seemingly for a better view of the patterns) and sending signals by coloured lights to the field.
You really just have to listen to his post WC final match interview, posted earlier, to get insight into how his mind works, i.e. so and so many days, hours, minutes to the final, so many minutes of load this or that prop had in the run up.
Nothing strange right? Every team has those stats, but how many head coaches can quote it on a whim and be spot on? Rassie likes numbers, stats and patterns above all else. The rugby gods simply saved him from a life of damnation becoming a beancounter.
It is my contention that Rassie made a plan in 2018 how to win the WC and stuck to it (as everyone would have done). But how exactly did it go? Well, easiest would have been to stick to patterns that won our first two - 10-man game and defense only. Predictable, sound advise, so start practicing, but reduced to a 9-man game.
You can also get glimpses of this in the post-match video, how they targeted this or that test to practice as if they were already in the WC playoffs. But they had to enforce the norm assumption of what SA will be doing at the WC.
Remember, we’re talking about the general strategy now, not to about this knock nor that try. And so, on average, preparing for SA would require preparing your team for the general, overall patterns and strategy seen all season from the Boks? Logical thing to do.
What Rassie could of course not predict in 2018, was who would play the final, nor which injuries could happen. Ergo, he knew less than a week, it would be the fox Eddie they had to prepare and be prepared for, but could just as well have been Hansen. His hidden strategy would have to have been something that could be applied universally to any team that happens on the final.
As it happened on the day though, the early prop injury for England simply made the work easier… far, far too easy actually. What should have remained a solid scrum for England in spite of the injury turned into 5metre gains and penalties to SA the whole day. I can tell you right now, there were many, many a household in SA not saying too loudly (in case Eddie could hear), what if Eddie calls for another prop to take a knee and make the scrums uncontested? Desperate times, desperate measures? And so breaths were held, whispers made, etc. Now, hopefully as a result of pure respect for the game, he never did. But did Rassie help him make the choice, or rather ensuring it won’t be considered at all? Gave him a nudge?
Rassie had a card up the sleeve, he always does, but he could not have foreseen these events, and surely also not factor in that a uncontested scrum final could in fact become a real possibility if/when Eddie becomes desperate for the win in the final half. If so, surely it would negate Rassie’s best laid trap and designs in the process. What to do?
Roll on the conspiracy, minute 51. Scrum Eng 10m line of SA, SA up by 9. Context: SA literally destroyed the Eng scrum at minute 44 and again at minute 47, as was the case the whole match. Minute 51 had the same front rows. What happens? Kitshoff, by mistake or design, slip/land on a knee - SA doesn’t bother to counter or stabilize, but virtually as a pack simply standup and have Eng push against no one. Result: penalty Eng, costing 3 points. Bigger result though: Eng forwards high fives and smiles all around, game on, right?
Wrong! The single scrum Eng won all day, so much against the play that even Stransky - giving live comms at the time - went “How on earth does a scrum dominated the whole day, go to dominating in 60 seconds?”. And my answer - purely for the fun of it - is to make the controversial suggestion, that it doesn’t.
The implied suggestion is even more controversial though - because if it doesn’t, then Rassie gave Eng the scrum knowing it would, with 80% probability, result in 3 for Eng. That being said, SA being up by 9, the risk was and would have been huge if anyone won by 3, but maybe an acceptable risk to virtually guarantee the result in the process? A small sacrifice for the bigger goal?
(scrum highlights, 1:10 for the good English one)
Minute 51 cemented two things. One, it reinforced everyone’s belief in the Eng forwards (after all, they saw it in the SF). Most importantly in Eddie’s mind, a belief that “Now, game on!? 30mins to go, stick to the game plan that we prepared for”. Two, it also let lose what Rassie had up his sleeve.
Nothing magical then, no bunnies from hats, still keeping it simple, but definitely a deliberate shift towards attacking. Kickoffs no longer deep, but high instead. Suddenly Faf hardly kicks again (no more free balls to Eng, drying up a tap everyone playing SA counted on the whole of 2019), passing to Pollard instead who suddenly found legs to run and do what we all know he can.
Willie never missed an easy high ball again (in fact, those freebies started to dry up in the SF already - he magically found form, which he somehow lost in a position he played in all his life?). Bok scrums suddenly and ironically did become virtually uncontested affairs, as the ball was flying out to 10 to run it. Too many coincidences?
More likely then, a strategy was changed on the fly whilst reinforcing a “dummy pass” that the Eng forwards had the upper hand now. What Eng was not prepared for, was playing a different team/a new strategy that was not on display in 2019. Not as easy to change game plan from attack to defense if you prepared to attack the Boks the whole week and suddenly find yourself without the ball?
Surely not as easy as telling Faf not to kick and having all the Boks know what to do when the call is made. The result became inevitable. Kolbe’s try telling, 5 in front of him, he only had to beat 1, the forwards having been minced all day, as useful as streetcones in the final 10.
As said, its just for fun, trying to reverse engineer tactics and strategies which definitely went far, far beyond my comprehension. Could just as well have been a coincidence, Eng came together and did in fact won one scrum, and being ahead the “inexperienced” Rassie just allowing everyone to have a bit of a run in the last 30 and enjoy the outing - which, even as I just typed that last sentence, sound even more ridiculous than my proposed conspiracy. It was a WC Final, not a SuperRugby game!
Either way, we’ll factually know when we know, which will most likely only be after all the memoirs were penned. For now any theory is as valid as the next I suppose.