CRAIG LEWIS takes a closer look at the Boks’ high-risk, high-reward defence that was exposed at times during last Saturday’s clash at Twickenham.
While so much of the fallout from the Springboks’ loss to England has revolved around Owen Farrell’s dangerous tackle on André Esterhuizen, the Boks will also reflect on some of the mixed fortunes that they endured on defence.
This year there has been a fair bit of talk around the Boks’ aggressive high-line rush defence that aims to empower the players out wide to make big decisions, often coming from the outside in with the aim of preventing their opponents from taking them to the edges.
It’s clear that it is a system that the Boks are still fully coming to grips with, and which often relies on accurate decision-making, good communication and real understanding between the outside backs.
Last Saturday, the Boks were too regularly exposed out wide, and there are a number of clips that demonstrate the high risk and high reward involved.
In the first example early on, England switch play to the blindside where the Boks are a little short on numbers as Damian Willemse hangs out of the defensive line close to the touchline. Jesse Kriel has to press up, S’bu Nkosi presses in, but Henry Slade does exploit the space with a neat grubber.
Next, we see how effective the system can be when players get it right. Here Aphiwe Dyantyi makes a beautiful read to shoot in and make a massive hit on Jonny May.
Below, we then see some nice work from Kriel. After a lost lineout, England have a numbers advantage, but Kriel buys some time as he tracks backwards and sideways before covering out wide after a pass floats over Dyantyi after he shot in. However, England enjoy good gains from a kick into the 22.
Now we come to the last 30-odd minutes of the clash, and it’s during this period that the Boks are far too regularly exposed on defence, and there is no doubt that a more lethal team such as the All Blacks would have made them pay even more dearly.
Below, England actually run a lovely set play and there’s plenty of space to exploit out wide, but to his credit, Nkosi cuts down Jack Nowell with a superb tackle around the ankles. It averts danger in this instance.
Again, though, we see below how England are beginning to adapt and expose the Boks through passes out the back. This time, Farrell sells a lovely dummy as Handré Pollard overcommits and England break away to the 22.
As the clash heads into the final quarter when players are tiring and the game is a bit more loose, the Boks find themselves repeatedly stretched on defence. Below, Farrell neatly takes the ball to the line before belatedly playing it out the back for Elliot Daly to attack space out wide after Pollard is unable to complete a ball-and-all tackle.
In the next example, we can see how two late and deep out-the-back passes again nullify the Boks’ rush as Esterhuizen this time looks to shoot out and catch his man, but doesn’t manage to do so. Pollard and Kriel are forced to cut in, but find themselves in no-man’s land as England break away again.
Just seconds later, England bring the ball the other way, and again find space on the edges as Dyantyi rushes up, but a skip pass sees the ball float over to Daly. It’s not the end of the world as De Allende covers well, while Willemse also comes up into the line.
The Boks are again exposed in the 70th minute. As England continue to go side-to-side, this time Kriel shoots out of line in a Bok defence that has been stretched and is now outnumbered. Kriel is unable to cut out the pass and England effectively have a four-on-one advantage.
Finally, we’ll look at one last example. Here, England again use the out-the-back pass and have real numbers and space out wide. Dyantyi does do well to press in and put some doubt in the mind of George Ford, who fails to get the pass away with the hosts again boasting a numbers advantage out wide.
It’s clear from the various examples that the Boks are still coming to grips with a system that does have its risks, particularly when the defensive line is compromised. It places a real onus on the players to make accurate reads, while relying on cover defence when space is found out wide.
The return of experienced decision-maker Willie le Roux will boost the back three for Saturday’s Test against France, but the Boks will know that they need to continue fine-tuning a defensive system that England were able to exploit as the game went on.
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