Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus is happy with the early-season form of South Africa's Super Rugby franchises, in particular with what he says is the way that players are "grabbing the Test match mould".
The Sharks, Bulls and Stormers have each won two of their opening three fixtures of the Super Rugby season, while the Lions have won one, vs. the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, against two defeats, to the Stormers and the Bulls, but it is the manner of play, rather than the victories, that have pleased Erasmus, the Springboks head coach and South Africa Rugby's Director of Rugby.
"There's a different shift this year," Erasmus said at a press conference at the conclusion of the first Springboks 'alignment camp' of the season.
"Last year you saw a lot of attacking running rugby from our franchises, and it seems to me that some of our guys are grabbing the Test match mould, in trying to apply and lot of pressure and territory in a tactical game. As a national coach it's sometimes a positive they are not just playing a running game, but then again it's early season and I guess the game will evolve as the season will go on."
Erasmus said the franchise's style of play was not a result of a directive from him.
"A lot of players were in the [Springboks] mix last season, and they've gone back to their franchsies; what we're trying to do at Springboks level does get filtered down through those players. Those players know what they must be able to do when they get to us.
"We do see a lot of stuff with the franchsie coaches but they all have their own flavour, especially when it comes to the tactical game, and we don't want to take that away. But there's certainly some stuff flowing through from the national side, and vice versa."
Asked in particular about the kicking game adopted by the Bulls, for whom Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard is playmaker and a key decision-maker, Erasmus said with smile that he didn't want to "harp on about kicking games".
"But World Cups have never been won by eight tries," he said.
"It's always been high-pressure games and the end of the game it's a penalty here or a drop goal there.
"If you don't start accepting that mindset, and how important are penalties, discipline, kicking game, defence -- and by all means attack -- if all of a sudden you want to instill that at Test match level it's too late. The players understand that.
"This game isn't all about X-factor, all about a brilliant moment; it's almost like the [South African Super Rugby] teams are trying tactically to squeeze results out of each other, and to be honest I'm enjoying that."
Erasmus, meanwhile, said that "about 80 percent" of his Springboks squad for the Rugby World Cup in Japan was "settled", although he referenced the injuries to Lions captain Warren Whiteley and Bulls captain Lood de Jager when noting "it's tough to say something like that, though, when you know that there will be injuries and other guys may be asked to step up".
Whiteley is likely to miss four to six weeks of Super Rugby having sustained a chest injury in Round 2, while de Jager will not play again in the provincial competition after learning he needs shoulder surgery.
Erasmus said he had spoken with 10 Stormers players at the first of the alignment camps, in Cape Town, and he will address players at the other franchises in the coming weeks to explain his plans for the season.
"We want to get it into the players' heads what they can expect when they travel to Japan," Erasmus said.
"We've spoken about our plans and all the tactical requirements. It's important that we get that ball rolling sooner rather than later.
"We've opted to stick with the players who were with us at the Boks last season [for the camps]. So we had 10 players involved in the recent camp with the Stormers. We will meet with about 20 players after the Bulls and Sharks game in Pretoria. That camp will take place on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday."
Erasmus said also that South African Rugby was ensuring "that all the players who are on the [World Cup] radar have a specific plan with regards to managing their workload".
"All the franchises have bought into our plan, and we will be monitoring each player carefully, not just in terms of their game time but also with regards to other things like their speed, tactical work-ons and so on."
Erasmus was at pains to note that de Jager and Whiteley were not injured because they had been overplayed.