Raymond Rhule is a fine rugby player, blessed with plenty of skill and a lot of pace.
Built like a gazelle, the Ghanaian-born Springbok winger is a true thoroughbred down the right touchline. And, when you mix in his wonderful rugby intelligence in the wide channels, the Boks have a dangerous try-scorer in their midst.
But there is one thing that Rhule is struggling with on a rugby field. It’s the one blot on his rugby playbook that has been exposed in both Super Rugby and the Boks’ series against France.
Rhule simply can’t tackle, and his defence must be a big concern as far as Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is concerned.
The Cheetahs flyer offers so much on attack, but his defence often lets him down. Rhule had the most missed tackles (38) in Super Rugby, and missed 11 tackles against the French over the three-Test series June — also more than any other player.
Rhule’s front-on tackling is the biggest problem, as he was bumped off quite a few times during the French series when following up restarts. It gave the French comfortable exits, as their runners could build up a head of steam after breaking the first tackle and make a few extra metres for their halfbacks to either attack or kick the ball downfield without any pressure.
Many South African supporters have called for Lions wing Ruan Combrinck to come into team, because of his big frame and his booming right boot. But while Combrinck is a solid defender and a top attacker, he does lack Rhule’s subtleties and vision on attack.
Rhule is the Boks’ most creative backline player in terms of creating a spark in the wide channels. He runs lovely lines and his anticipation is really good, while he can offload brilliantly in the tackle. Rhule is also a fabulous runner from broken play, beating defenders with his balance, poise and blistering speed.
He has that X factor that coaches cherish, which is probably why Coetzee is backing the player ahead of a flyer like Combrinck.
“A factor is how hard our wings work in terms of their chasing ability,” Coetzee said during the June series against France.
“Sometimes people criticise you for not having big wings, but I don’t think big wings have got that aerobic and anaerobic ability to be sprinting down the chase, and scrambling back, and making a tackle on the tryline. And that is where I think our wings are really playing their part.”
Tackling is something Rhule can still work on, but X factor is something that you cannot teach a player. So, Coetzee is right to hedge his bets on Rhule, and what he offers on attack. But an international wing can’t afford to miss one-on-one tackles on the wing.
That is going to be one area of the game where Rhule will have to step up over the next couple of months if he wants to continue to play for the Springboks. Tries win Test matches, but conceding them definitely lose you Test matches.