Following the Springboks victory of England this weekend, I read with interest how the English press announced that South Africa showed they will be a force in the World Cup.
The performance of the Springboks have been described as dogged, ruthless and any other physical adjective you can think of. More to the fact, it has been described as ‘traditional’.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers eluded to the fact when he mentioned in a post-match interview that they tried to play a game that does not suit the Springboks (referring to the Scotland shocker I would imagine) and that the England game would be the blueprint for what they take to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next year.
The English press suggested in their assessment of the match that the way to beat the Springboks is to match them physically, specifically upfront, and that if you manage that, you will easily outmanoeuvre their ‘boring’ one-dimensional backs.
It is true, throughout 2010 the Springbok backline looked lethargic, one-dimensional and at times pathetic, not able to use the platform their forwards provided for them and not converting opportunities into points.
Conversely, the All Blacks looked slick, strong and full of running.
The general consensus surround this issue was apparently that the game has ‘evolved’ and the All Blacks ‘evolved’ with it.
I am not so sure I buy into that.
The main argument used in this regard is that the new interpretations to the laws favours the teams that keep the ball in hand. Well two things springs to mind here.
Firstly, in rugby union you can only score if you have, or win the ball – so nothing really evolutionary for me there.
Secondly, if this is the case, why has the All Blacks and specifically Dan Carter been the team and individual who has kicked the ball more out of hand than any other team or player?
I watched some highlights packages of the All Blacks and Springboks to try and find the answer and two things jumped out at me.
Firstly, the All Blacks have really upped their game in the tackled area. It has been discussed ad-nausea this year and although they seem to get away with a bit, their approach is brilliant because thanks to the new interpretations (focus is on the defending team and tackler releasing) the odd obstruction and cleaning way beyond the ball largely goes unnoticed.
Secondly, through their dominance in this area, they have become more lethal than ever as a team who wins turn-over ball – and this to me is the biggest difference between the two teams.
The speed and execution from turn-over ball the All Blacks win is phenomenal, and in my view largely thanks to the genius of one Dan Carter who directs everything in that team.
Of course, the All Blacks ability to support the ball carrier plays a massive part in this but this is also hardly evolutionary, they have always been good at this.
I read a statistic recently which said the All Blacks averaged almost 4 tries per match in 2010, which is phenomenal at test level, but then I could hardly remember tries scored from set plays or first phase ball.
In comparison, a situation in the test against England summed up the Springboks performance of 2010 for me. They were 10 meters out from the English try-line hot on attack, ball came out from a ruck and somehow Victor Matfield and Frans Steyn got in the way of each other, bumbled the ball and they ended up 20 meters back.
It is not that we are unfamiliar with Matfield or any other forward standing at first receiver, he and others have done this very successfully at the Bulls with their infamous and very effective pod-system method of attack where two or even three pods are spread out next to rucks gaining meters upon meters on attack and also sucking in defenses and creating tries.
The difference was the execution of these plays (ball in hand) and of course, our tactical kicking which has come under the cosh quite a bit throughout 2010.
I know, one swallow does not make a summer (or any other cliché you want to throw in here), but rugby genius can also simply not be replaced – just ask New Zealand after the Hong Kong test when they substituted Carter and his deputy almost single-handedly losing them the game.
No matter what is written or said about this Springbok team in the local media, I tend to agree with the English press (for the first time in my life no-less) in believing that come Rugby World Cup 2011, and having players like Jaque Fourie, Heinrich Brussow and of course the genius Fourie du Preez back in the mix to direct play with the same authority as Carter does for New Zealand, the Springboks will be a massive force to be reckoned with.Tweet