There has only been one weekend of rugby in what is known in the northern hemisphere autumn season, but already it is becoming abundantly clear that the teams from the south have a massive advantage.
Gavin Rich writes for SuperRugby that we are not talking here about fitness, physical presence or athleticism, although those aspects are all arguably areas where South Africa, New Zealand and Australia are ahead of Scotland, Wales, England, Italy and Ireland. Where those teams have a march over their opponents is in their familiarity with the experimental law variations (ELVs) being applied at present.
There have been changes to the ELVs during the course of the year. In the Super 14 for instance, we had a much quicker paced game because of the crooked arm penalties, or free-kicks, which teams adopted a tap-and-go mentality to.
But the South African domestic season saw the adoption of the same laws that are applicable on this Bok tour and in the other test matches pitting northern teams against combinations from the southern hemisphere. Springbok No8 Pierre Spies this week agreed with the perception after the past weekend that the northern hemisphere teams are lagging when it comes to the way they play the ELVs.
“The ELVs suit us and the way we are playing at the moment, it is working in our favour because we are more used to them and I think we saw that this past weekend,” said Spies.
The Blue Bull forward did not specify what specifically put the southern teams ahead, but an analysis of the past weekend will show that the northern coaches, even the really good ones, are not quite on the money when it comes to what strategy should be adopted.
England went into their Twickenham clash with the Pacific Islanders with a more expansive approach than we are used to from the 2003 World Cup winners. According to most reports from around the England camp, the Martin Johnson regime is placing a strong emphasis on attacking rugby, at least initially. This explains why there wasn’t much evidence of a big kicking game in their first match of the new season.
England though were the only team that played this type of rugby this past weekend to win. The Scots surprised the Bok management with how little they kicked against the All Blacks, a match which they lost with something to spare against the New Zealand second string combination.
This was on the same day that the usually astute Warren Gatland lamented his Wales team’s inability to win a match against South Africa where he felt his men had done most of the playing. It just happened to coincide with the day that the Bok players stamped their own will on proceedings, adopting an approach that was far more Jake White and World Cup 2007 in orientation than anything that has come out of Peter de Villiers’ mouth this year.
To put it simply, the Boks kept mistakes to a minimum, and Ruan Pienaar’s excellent first start at flyhalf was marked by a disciplined application of the strategy he was instructed to carry out, to a degree that was quite surprising. The Boks did not play well which was why they did not win by a big margin, but their tactics never looked like failing against the strongest team in Europe.
Wales, by contrast, were a lot like the South Africans in the Tri-Nations – they won a lot of ball, did a lot of playing, but too often from positions on the field where it was unwise to do so. A fuss was made afterwards of the line-breaks that they made, but how many of those really threatened a try? The bottom line is that the Welsh never crossed the Bok line, and never looked like doing so.
Once again, the team that kicked the most won the match, which has been pretty much how it has turned out in most of the games played since the introduction of the ELVs back in February. The northern hemisphere teams, so long considered more conservative than their southern counterparts, are taking a while to figure this out – and it is just another reason to explain the expectation that this is a November where no southern hemisphere nation should lose on this annual pilgrimage north of the equator.Tweet