The Springboks’ decision to face the Wallabies without a renowned breakdown exponent will require an astute tactical adjustment, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Make no mistake, the late withdrawal of David Pocock is a game changer for the Wallabies, with the dynamic loose forward having already racked up six turnovers over the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship (equal only with Malcolm Marx).
It places an additional onus on Australia captain Michael Hooper to make his mark at the breakdown, but there’s no doubt that the Bok forwards will now set him firmly in their crosshairs when cleaning out at the breakdown.
One way or another, the Boks’ approach to this facet of play is sure to be significantly different now that Marx and Francois Louw have been rotated to the bench.
Marx’s ability over the ball is well documented, but he is also a momentum-stopper on defence and a powerful ball-carrier, while Louw’s recall to the Boks had been largely based around his decision-making abilities at the breakdown.
Different personnel will necessitate a different approach, and in Bongi Mbonambi the Boks will look to rely on the work-rate of the tireless 27-year-old, and his accuracy as an active cleaner at the rucks.
Siya Kolisi reverts to openside flank and will be fiercely focused on providing competition at the breakdown, but on the whole, this is an area where the Springboks will need to make smart decisions on defence.
Without a renowned ‘jackal’, the Boks should look to limit overcommitting at the breakdown, while rather prioritising keeping numbers on defence against a Wallabies side that can be devastating with their hard running lines and interlinking set moves.
Besides looking to steamroll the Wallabies at the contact points, the Boks will be determined to achieve ascendancy at scrum time. Forwards coach Matt Proudfoot reiterated earlier this week that their intention was to replicate the physicality that carried them to victory in their Rugby Championship opener.
In order to keep the ball away from Hooper, the Boks will stick to a plan of keeping it tight and using their driving maul to literally keep the ball off the ground and to build momentum through that platform.
Pieter-Steph du Toit’s inclusion does provide the Springboks with additional strength at the lineout, but his mobility and fitness will be tested by an Australian team that will look to move the visitors around.
Saturday’s clash is ultimately shaping up to be a battle of brains and brawn, and a new-look Bok team will need to display accurate adaptability in aiming to wear down the Aussies before unleashing a star-studded bench.
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