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Jon Cardinelli

Boks to use boot as weapon


Willie le Roux likes to chip into space Willie le Roux likes to chip into space

The Springboks will be that much more dangerous when they vary their attack in the coming series against Wales, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Test in Auckland this past Saturday was a tactical arm-wrestle. The All Blacks scored a try in the 78th minute to clinch the contest, but that five-pointer came on the back of a sustained period of pressure in which the New Zealanders' kicking game kept the English pinned in their own territory.

It's a myth that the All Blacks are a running side that attacks at every opportunity, just as it's a myth that the Boks are pre-programmed to kick away possession. The All Blacks have kicked more than any other Test side over the past few seasons, and their superior tactical kicking is one of the reasons that they are so successful.

To explode the myth about the Boks, well, you need only look at the South Africans' record in 2013. They scored more tries than any other Test side, and averaged nearly four tries per match.

That doesn't mean that the Boks cannot improve in 2014. They are still chasing the All Blacks for that No 1 world ranking, and the Bok coaching staff are mindful of the need to evolve.

In 2013, coach Heyneke Meyer expressed the need to sharpen the breakdown approach. A specialist in Richie Gray was recruited, and by the end of the season, the Boks were right up there with the best in the world.

Meyer has spoken about improving the lineout and the tactical kicking in 2014. The return of Victor Matfield, who effectively doubles as a lineout coach, will boost the Boks at this set piece. As for the tactical kicking, it appears as if the Boks will be looking to do more than just drive for territory.

Some people believe Meyer to be conservative, although it was Meyer who took a chance on the brilliant but raw Willie Roux in early 2013. Le Roux certainly vindicated the selection, adding some unpredictability to the Bok attack.

Le Roux also benefited from the selection in that he has been forced to sharpen his kicking game. By becoming a more rounded player, offering both running and kicking options, Le Roux has become even less predictable.

Le Roux has troubled defences in the wider channels during this year's Super Rugby competition. He has been a threat with ball in hand, and has also caused problems when he's opted to chip kick into the space behind the defensive line.

It's a tactic that can be successful. Correctly executed, it can yield points against even the best defences.

This Saturday, the Boks will play Wales in the first of two Tests. Wales are renowned for their defensives structures, and so the Boks will need to come up with something special if they hope to maintain their scoring strike-rate.

They scored six against a composite World XV side last Saturday, and while this will give them confidence, they will know that Wales will be tougher to breach.

The Boks possess a potent lineout drive, but as they showed in 2013, they also have the means to cut the opposition defence in the wider channels. Once they have obtained the necessary territory, they can make further inroads via a wide strike or a kick into space.

It's another myth that the Boks don't have skillful backline players. Frans Steyn married vision with execution when he chipped the Bulls defence in the early rounds, and set up Odwa Ndungane for a special try. Le Roux has utilised this tactic throughout the season, and while it hasn't always come off, it has kept the defence guessing.

Perhaps consistency is the real issue. The New Zealanders seem to get this right more regularly. South African players less so.

The Boks took some giant strides in 2013, and the good news is they will strive to evolve in 2014. They will be less predictable in the coming series against Wales, and this will allow them to be more successful in terms of their attack.

Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images

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