If you want to know what has gone wrong with the Boks or what the All Blacks are doing right, why not just look at how they play?
I mean it is the simplest way to see how something works or doesn’t work isn’t it?
Or are we looking but not actually seeing or understanding what is happening right in front of our eyes?
So exactly what are the All Blacks doing differently from the Springboks (or for that matter Australia)?
Well the simplest way I can put this is that they simply apply themselves better to the game of union as it is played and officiated at the moment. Tactically they are smarter and they have a far better game strategy than South Africa.
So much has been made of the Springboks success of 2009 and how the team currently misses the likes of Brussow and Fourie du Preez in particular, and although I agree that the loss of players is disruptive to any team it is by no means the primary reason for the success, or lack thereof that we are currently seeing with the All Blacks and Springboks respectively.
There is currently a huge interest in the ruck or tackled ball area and rightly so, it has become the most important part of the game. South Africans however in analysing their situation and perceived weakness in this area are getting it wrong – specifically with what, or who, this can be turned around.
Of course I am referring to the favourite old topic of the fetcher and his importance and today, much like a couple of years ago I think his role is overstated.
Skills to win the ball on the ground and turn-over possession is vital, but it is not limited to one person or position (role) nor is it a situation or instance controlled or reliant only by or from one person.
How is this? Well just look at how the All Blacks are playing and focus a bit on their so-called fetchers in Richie McCaw and David Pocock.
In all the Tri-Nations games to date none of these players forced a ruck turn-over. In fact, team statistics favoured South Africa in all but one test (Soweto test) as scoring the most ruck turn-overs sometimes even double that of the opposition team.
Defensively McCaw only scored one defensive turn-over in all the tests he has played against the Springboks, Pocock none. Even Matfield has done better than that!
So what is all the bloody fascination with the role of a fetcher, and South Africa’s lack of one?
But wait, how is it we still lost the contest if this is the case? Why are we still beaten at the ruck then? Why is Pocock and McCaw such a bloody nuisance in this area?
Well to answer that we need to define what is important when winning the ruck as a contest.
There are three main areas in the modern game which are vitally important if you look to have a hope in hell in winning the ruck situation.
1) Balance of the loose-trio AND tight 5 (sub-factor, technique applied and used by the players)
2) Speed and commitment/numbers to the breakdown (sub-factor, clear role definition of players)
3) RESPECTING POSSESSION
So let’s go back to McCaw and Pocock.
Their effectiveness is not measured by ball-pilfering skills or steals as is the common definition of a fetcher. It is measured more by their speed and technique to, and at the tackled point or ruck.
Their effectiveness is also amplified or helped by roles of other forwards in this area enabling them to spoil, or slow down opposition ball thanks to a clear role definition to those players (primarily props and locks in close-in channels and their loose-trio partners in rucks or tackled areas further wide or away from the original point of contact).
And finally and most importantly, with possession won or secured, possession is kept.
If you study the All Blacks their attention to detail and role definition of specific players in defensive and offensive rucks you will be amazed. It is very clear their ball carrying forwards, cleaners, pillars, spoilers, loiterers, etc. are clearly defined within the team and when you put all that together, and you hunt as a unit in both defensive and offensive situations, you are almost unstoppable.
In short, McCaw and Pocock are so effective because the whole unit responsible to control this area makes it possible for them in addition to their individual skills.
That is quite simply clever rugby. It is also quite simple rugby but it is dependent on the points raised above of which respecting possession and not kicking it away, and clear role definition plays a vital part.
But even that would be useless if it was not for one very simple thing, hunting as a unit and committing numbers to the breakdown.
Apart from one test, the very first Tri-Nations test in Auckland, Australia and New Zealand committed more players to offensive rucks (when they had possession and sometimes a count of 100 more in a match than the Springboks) and less players to defensive rucks compared to the Springboks. (In the first test SA committed one less person to a defensive ruck than New Zealand).
What does that tell you?
Well it tells me quite a number of things most importantly of which are;
This is the reason why the All Blacks and Australia had so much possession, handled the ball so much more, created more line-breaks and effectively scored more tries and generally look more effective running the ball by committing numbers to rucks on attack thanks to quick, quality ball they produced.
This is the reason the Springboks always look out on their feet having to commit more players to defensive rucks than their opponents and defend themselves physically into the ground.
This is the reason the Springboks cannot close out a game.
However, for some reason the Springboks insist in kicking away possession forcing themselves to commit to defense and defensive rucks, most notably Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf who kicked 9 times in the match at FNB Stadium with not one of them being defensive kicks.
So I understand the perception in wanting a player in the mould of McCaw and Pocock for the Springboks but make no mistake, for that to work for the Springboks they firstly have to change their game-plan or strategy and secondly, success in this area will be more dependent on how you work as a unit in this area of the game, than it will be relying on one specific person, or one specific role – the so-called fetcher.Tweet