November 20 2013 at 01:48pm By Mike Greenaway
Paris – The Springboks have won nine of 11 Test matches this year but a less flattering statistic is the 10 yellow cards issued to South Africa, and with the French provocative at best and downright war-like at worst, discipline is going to be key on Saturday at the Stade de France.
In defence of the Boks, nearly all of those cards have been for professional fouls or repeated infringements, and not for foul play, and forwards coach Johan van Graan says the growing penalty count against the Boks needs to be seen in the context of the players pushing the boundaries in their attempts to win ball in the loose exchanges.
“We want to concede as few penalties as possible but this has proven difficult on this tour, especially, because of the heavy contest at scrum time on difficult playing surfaces, in the line-out mauls and the breakdowns,” he said. “We are conceding a lot of penalties at the breakdown but to counter that we are also winning more turnovers than the opposition, so we need to find the balance.”
Van Graan said that his team’s decision-making at the breakdown had in fact improved, despite the rising penalty count.
“There are a lot of positive sides to the story,” he said. “Sometimes you have to go for the ball and you might get it wrong. We got it right quite a few times against Wales and Scotland and feel we are improving in how we technically tackle the breakdown.
“We are winning more ball than we are conceding,” the assistant coach said. “For example, when we were under siege in the second half against Scotland, Bismarck du Plessis and Duane Vermeulen both made good decisions to go in and steal ball when we were in our 22.”
Van Graan said the penalty count would come down as the players become more proficient in their work, but they would not be discouraged from playing positively.