Having captained a Lions team that has captured the hearts of South African rugby fans with their expansive style of play, Warren Whiteley knows best that turning the Springboks into an all-running team requires time.
The 28-year-old is adamant that South Africa does have the players to match the best in the world when it comes to skill, but also warns that the Springboks shouldn’t forget what has made the country’s rugby such a force in world rugby in years gone by.
Whiteley, who made the difficult decision to snub the chance of playing for the Blitzbokke at the Olympic Games to lead his Lions team in Super Rugby, explains: “I can only talk from the experience that I have from the Lions and can’t talk on international terms.
“For us [at the Lions] it did take a while [to play the free-running game that is now associated with the team.
“What was really important is the belief you have in the system and the style of rugby that you want to play and buy-in from every single player.
“If you have that buy-in, you’re going to make mistakes.
“But if you believe in what you do and just stick to it, the improvement will come, the decision-making will get better over time – it’s taken us time – and I believe now we are playing good rugby.”
It is not an overnight process and Whiteley adds: “You don’t want to do away with what has made Springbok rugby traditionally very strong – setpiece [scrums and lineouts], physical contact.
“But we all know that in South Africa we also have skill-based players, fantastic talent that can pass left and right from No.1 to No.15 and we need to utilise that as well.
“So to get the balance right is going to be crucial.
“We’ve got the players with skills – it’s always been there – you just have to look at our players at school level and then you will see we’ve got the players that can do it.”