Rugby: 'It's winning that counts, not tries'

By Mike Greenaway

Warren Gatland has a knack of getting under the skin of the opposition with prickly observations in the press, and Dick Muir's response to questions from the Welsh media yesterday suggested the New Zealand-born Wales coach has again pressed buttons in the Springbok camp.

This week, Gatland was unflattering in his description of the way Boks play rugby or, rather, don't play it.

"I see there have been comments in the press about us not playing rugby [not attacking or keeping the ball], but we are all about results," the Springbok backline coach said, stopping short of pointing out that Wales have beaten the Boks just once in 25 test matches since 1906 and have lost 12 in a row since shocking Gary Teichmann's team in Cardiff in 1999.

"We are definitely picking up that they are in the mood to take our scalps," Muir smiled wryly.

The Boks have won narrowly in Cardiff in the past three games between the sides, 29-25, 34-31 and 20-15, but before that the Welsh were hammered in matches in South Africa.

"I think the end-of-year matches in Cardiff need to been seen in the right perspective," Muir said. "We tend to be under-strength on those tours because it is the end of a long year for us and fatigue and injuries have taken their toll."

He might well have added that Wellington's Cake Tin is one stadium the South African players know intimately, having played Tri-Nations tests there regularly and often visiting with their Super rugby teams.

"But whatever happened last year and this year too, be it Wales' impressive warm-up games or our [poor] results in the Tri-Nations, Sunday is what counts," Muir said. "They can take what they want out of how we went in the Tri-Nations ..."

It was pointed out to Muir that the Bok backs failed to score a try in the Tri-Nations and that hooker John Smit, who dotted down twice, was his team's leading try-scorer.

"I am not worried about the lack of tries, it sometimes goes like that," Muir reflected. "You always want to score more tries but it is about winning games first. We have looked at ways to improve our try-scoring at the World Cup but the result is paramount. It is not always about how you get over the line, as long as you do. It is a team effort.

"If you look at the last six finals, only nine tries were scored. It comes down to pressure and taking opportunities and, as you advance in the competition, you get less and less opportunities.

"We would love to be playing flamboyant rugby but is not a reality in World Cups. It is about winning at the end of the day, nobody recalls the tries or lack thereof."

Muir says the nature of the tournament means you have not got time to focus too much on anybody but yourself and how you want to play.

"Once the World Cup gets going, you play a different team every week, so you have to concentrate more on honing your own game. You want to have some flexibility in what you want to do but I think teams get too caught up worrying about the opposition when they have a job to do regarding their own game.

"We are going to be presented with a few opportunities, and we have to exploit them, and that is where the flexibility and decision-making comes in. And for that we have gone for maturity and experience in our squad."

- Independent (SA)

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