The Boks’ brutal defence, mauls and power game was a thing of beauty in the World Cup quarter-final against Japan, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Following the clinical 26-3 victory over the World Cup hosts on Sunday, Japan wing Lomano Lemeki summed up the Bok effort in this rather colourful manner: ‘South Africa were just too physical – this is what finals footy is about. They just bashed the sh*t out of us.’
He is not wrong.
The Springboks’ victory was laid on a foundation of physicality and brutality, and after the visitors had weathered an early attacking storm from Japan, they were able to bruise their way to a semi-final date with Wales.
There are some telling examples of just how the Boks’ used their physical dominance to great effect, starting with this brutal scrum below early on. Not only do the Boks stick the Japan scrum into reverse, but Duane Vermeulen shows great control of the ball at the back of the set piece, before Faf de Klerk makes a quickfire call to shift the ball to the blindside. The move finishes with Makazole Mapimpi blitzing past weak defending from Yu Tamura to score.
Although the Boks did have some jittery moments during the opening exchanges of the quarter-final, they completely dominated the second stanza and controlled proceedings through their power game.
Initially, Japan showed some good technique when defending the Bok maul, but as the game went on, so the South Africans began to achieve increasing ascendancy. Below they set the maul of the century, driving from within their own half all the way into the Japan 22 before Malcolm Marx breaks away and puts Faf de Klerk in for the simplest of tries.
In the lead-up to Sunday’s quarter-final, a lot had been made of this being a battle between Japan’s attack and the Boks’ defence. Ultimately, there was only one winner. While Japan did their level best to keep the ball alive and attempt to exploit space out wide, they were regularly met by brutal, dominant tackles.
Below is a prime example as Siya Kolisi – who had a huge game – smashes an opponent back behind the advantage line. Savage tackles such as this one became a familiar sight on Sunday.
In the split screen below, there’s also a prime example of Faf de Klerk’s defensive value to the Boks. The little pocket rocket is a key weapon as he often uses his speed to dart out of line and catch opponents in possession. Here he comes in on the angle and makes a disruptive hit on Michael Leitch.
The Japan skipper manages to bounce out of the tackle, but is then met with a huge hit from Beast Mtawarira, who jolts the ball free.
On and on it went. The two clips below personify what the Bok defence is all about: aggression, dominance, mercilessness. In the first example, Japan look to attack after receiving a clearance kick. But Pieter-Steph du Toit forms part of a tight-knit defensive wall, and then makes a superb hit to stall the attack.
Of further interest, watch how Marx burrows over the ball, and slows the recycle. The referee calls for hands off, and then watch how Du Toit slaps Marx on the back to alert him to release the ball so that a penalty isn’t conceded.
Finally, Japan are able to release the ball from the breakdown below, but then here comes that Bok defence again. First Francois Louw comes accurately out of line to make a hit, before that man Kolisi again powerfully rips the ball free as he grapples with great strength.
The Boks pounce on possession, and in one example of excellent counter-attack, Mapimpi ends the move with a try.
All in all, these examples provide insight into just how the Boks’ traditional strengths – such as physicality and defensive brutality – are setting the team apart.
Photo: Richard Heathcote – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images