Picture: for illustration purposes

Flashing Light Communication Strategy of Springboks Under Question Over Legality

Published September 21, 2023
9 months ago

During the recent Rugby World Cup game, the Springbok coaching box introduced lights akin to traffic signals to assist in communication. This innovation was met with scepticism and intrigue, particularly from observers in the northern hemisphere.

The Springboks' unique communication tool was employed to overcome the cacophonous environment at the Stade Vélodrome, where noise levels hamper effective communication. Head coach Jacques Nienaber, shedding light on the idea, said, "It started when we played France in Marseille. With the dome's hypnotic sound, it's tough to hear the people around, making it hard to converse with our support staff." He added that the lighting system, indicating injury situations ranging from green 'it's okay' to red 'serious injury and consider substitution', requires no special permissions from World Rugby. This strategy was notably practiced during Nienaber's tenure at Munster.

While the sheer noise levels presented by Springbok and Scottish fans pose a significant challenge, it pales in comparison to the deafening sound levels reached during the French games at the same location. The Boks' experience playing against France in November 2022 testified to this immense sensory impact - a blend of resounding sounds and spectacular lighting contributing to an unforgettable atmosphere. Appropriately communicating through this clamor raised concerns within Nienaber's team.

Players like Malcolm Marx, when probed about the light system, voiced their ignorance about the topic but acknowledged that any messages from the sidelines are executed regardless of their nature.

Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby's director, isn't unfamiliar with the application of lights for instruction related to gameplay, previously utilizing the tactic while coaching the Cheetahs. The legitimacy of the Boks' usage of lights seems to teeter on uncertain grounds, aligning with a recurring pattern of the Boks finding themselves subjected to close examination - not majorly for breaching rugby traditions, but for venturing into uncharted spheres.

Erasmus's actions during the 2021 British & Irish Lions series, involving his critique of referee Nic Berry, alongside his social media antics, earned criticism. This scrutiny extended to historically established Springbok techniques such as the maul tactic, commonly referred to as the 'human caterpillar', drawing demands for a review due to allegations of orchestrated obstruction.

Regardless of the teams' unique bench assembly and strategic manpower distribution inviting critique, the Boks, by nudging rugby and its time-tested conventions, have successfully added tumult to the game's calm, compelling the sport to resist change and maintain alignment with the old order. This ongoing shift, however, isn't anticipated to hamper the indomitable Bok spirit of reinventing the game's boundaries.

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