South Africa are caught between two playing styles, which All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says explains their fitful form in the Rugby Championship.
Hansen believes counterpart Allister Coetzee faced a conundrum the moment he took charge of the Springboks this year – whether to stick to their traditional forward-based strengths or play more expansively.
He believes the same issue remains heading into Saturday’s Test in Christchurch.
South Africa have lost their last two Tests, away to Argentina and Australia, with a lack of attacking fluency an obvious shortcoming.
Hansen reckons the success of the Lions in Super Rugby this year left Coetzee under pressure to adopt the same free-flowing methods which carried the Johannesburg-based side to a maiden final.
“Maybe that’s been part of their problem so far, they’re not sure how to play,” Hansen said.
“There’s a certain style South Africa play, it’s bruising, it’s physical and it’s reasonably direct whereas the Lions don’t play like that.”
While the five other South African teams struggled, the free-flowing Lions scored more tries than any team in Super Rugby and only came unstuck in the final against the Hurricanes.
They provide the spine of the Springboks in the form of athletic No.8 Warren Whiteley and spritely halves Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjes.
Yet statistics show they have kicked more than any team midway through the Rugby Championship.
“I’m not sure which one of those styles Allister wants to play. It looks like he wants to play a more expansive game and they’re going through that process,” Hansen said.
“When you come and you mould your team, sometimes it takes a little while to get them where you need them to be.
“They’ll get it right one of these days soon and when they do, look out.”
Coetzee responded to Hansen’s remarks with few clues to this week’s game plan, although he suggested the tourists would lean towards conservative rugby.
“If you don’t win your set piece, there’s no style that you can play,” he said.
“You have to have the possession to determine the pace of the game.”
He suggested kicking would be a bedrock of their methods, believing Argentina’s late collapse in the 57-22 loss to New Zealand last week was caused by a willingness to play for too long with the ball in hand.