Jesse Kriel says a mental shift and improvement in conditioning have been integral to the success of the Springboks’ new-look defensive system, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Pretoria.
According to Sanzaar’s statistics, the Boks have boasted a highly-impressive tackle success of 85.5% over the course of the Rugby Championship to date.
This week, All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty acknowledged the effectiveness of the Boks’ renewed linespeed, while former coach Jake White hailed the work being done to ensure defence once again became a cornerstone of the Springboks’ game.
In recent weeks, the Boks look to have increasingly come to grips with a defensive system that enforces an aggressive rush that is strong and square in the narrow channels, while leaving some space on the outside where the wingers are empowered to make key decisions to shutting down the attacking options.
At outside centre, Kriel has a key defensive role to play, and he hailed the influence of defence guru Jacques Nienaber and conditioning coach Aled Walters when discussing the work that has been put in.
‘The system that we’re using under Jacques is something that a lot of us really enjoy and have bought into. We’re all really putting our bodies on the line. It’s all good and well having a great system, but at the end of the day, you have to go out there and make the hits.
‘The system just gets you in the position, but then it also comes down to the individual actually making the tackles, and I think we’ve really got guys who are willing to do that.’
‘Rassie [Erasmus] has empowered players like myself and others to make big and bold decisions, which has been nice,’ he added. ‘You’re not always going to get it right, but then we’ve seen the effort that the guys have shown to scramble and clean that up. That’s really been a big positive from a defensive side, and we’ve seen how hard we are working for each other, and that’s all we can ask for.’
Below, SARugbymag.co.za looks at a prime example from last Saturday’s clash against the Wallabies of the Boks’ offensive defence that comes with its own risks.
In the clip, the Boks rush up, and although Australia manage to get the ball into space out wide, Aphiwe Dyantyi scrambles back to make a superb try-saving tackle. It’s the sort of example that epitomises the work-rate highlighted by Kriel.
Such a defensive approach also requires the Boks to be extremely fit, and Kriel suggested this was certainly an area where the team had taken an important step up.
‘I think it is definitely a mental shift that we have taken to embrace the new system, but also conditioning wise; Aled has come in and made a big difference with his emphasis on us training above the game level. The guys are definitely a lot fitter and able to go for 80 minutes.
‘Then we’ve also got guys coming off the bench and making a huge difference. We like to call them finishers with the way they are making an impact, and then we also have great decision-makers at 9, 10 and 15 who are taking control. So now we are just working hard to ensure we make the most of our opportunities and execute better.’
Photo: Nic Bothma/EPA