South African skill criticisms 'unjustified': Larkham

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by Beth Newman

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham says claims that South African Rugby lacks the skills of its Australasian counterparts is “unjustified”.

The Brumbies face the Stormers this weekend, with the South African team touting a new expansive game plan.

While South African sides have generally imposed a physical threat on Australian visitors, Larkham said there’s no reason they should be considered as lacking in other elements of the game.

To this point in the season, Australia’s five franchises have scored an average 7.2 tries, while South Africa’s six sides average 7.16, though the Brumbies’ tally of 15 is well clear of South Africa’s best in the Lions (10).

Citing their strong schools competition, Larkham said South African players come into the elite system equipped with plenty of the basic skills.

“They’re unjustified those accusations,” he said.

“The skill over here is good, it’s just the style they’ve adopted to play over the last couple of years.”

Larkham said all that was needed was a mental shift, away from a forwards-focused style, for attacking skills to show themselves.

“You look at some of the teams over here like the Cheetahs, they throw the ball around and they’ve got exceptional skill, they’d blow anyone off the park if they get it right," he said.

The former Wallabies flyhalf said the international styles had developed out of necessity rather than anything else, with South Africa typically exerting a significant size advantage over other nations.

“That’s the traditionally been the way in South Africa - you kick the ball, use your forwards to dominate the other forward pack," he said.

“You see there is good skill over here and if the style changes then there’s the skill there to use that.

“For us traditionally it’s been a skill based game because we haven’t had the bigger guys relied on skill or cunning to try and win the games."

Larkham said it wouldn’t take long to create an ingrained style shift.

“There’s a.good school competition here, most guys come out of school with good skills," he said.

"The mindset of understanding how to play and why to play ,you could pick that up in a 12 month period for sure.”

In fact the Stormers change is one that Brumbies co-captain Christian Lealiifano has already noticed.

“We were  just talking about how we see them being a bit more expansive.

“We’ve been similar as well, been trying to expand our game to be able to use the ball a bit more and express ourselves which is going to make for a good game as well.”