The All Blacks’ aggressive press defence is just as much of a threat as their much-vaunted attack, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Durban.
The Springboks are set to face the world champs for the second time this year when the two teams go head to head at Kings Park on Saturday. After surging to a 41-13 win over the Boks in Christchurch, many would expect the Kiwis to run up another big score this weekend.
As it is, the All Blacks have scored a whopping 29 tries over the first four rounds of the Rugby Championship (more than all other teams combined), while they’ve racked up a total of 205 points with a positive differential of +136.
What’s also a rather scary fact is that backs Ryan Cotty, Ben Smith and Julian Savea have score more tries between them (12) than any of the other teams.
Yet, while the All Blacks’ eye-catching attack has received plenty of deserved plaudits, their highly effective defence has hardly received due credit.
Incredibly, New Zealand have conceded a measly 69 points and just four tries in five matches, while their tackle success rate sits at a tournament-high 89.3%.
A feature of their defensive system has been the move towards a high-paced press, with their organised linespeed cutting down the space and time for the opposition with ball in hand, which has often resulted in poor passes or inaccurate kicks under pressure.
Complementing the All Blacks’ press defence has been a talented back three, with the likes of Israel Dagg and Ben Smith placed to receive rushed kicks and then launch often lethal counter-attacks.
It’s a highly effective system that has reaped considerable rewards for the All Blacks, with Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles all in the top 10 for tackles completed, while Julian Savea, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett and Israel Dagg are in the top 10 for metres made.
The All Blacks’ defensive press is something that the Boks are fully aware of, but it remains to be seen whether they will have the accuracy and temperament to effectively counteract it this Saturday, particularly considering that their attacking and kicking game has left a lot to be desired this season.
On Monday, Bok coach Allister Coetzee said they certainly had a plan in place.
‘The All Blacks’ hard press allows them to leave players back to cover and field kicks. It makes you rush decisions and kick poorly, so we will have to be patient. We need to play right into the heart of that defence, and be physical with our ball carries, and look after the ball.
‘When there is that hard press, and there are numbers back, there must be space on the edges. So it’s about our decision-making and what we do from there. The big thing when we have ball in hand is to be patient because that hard press forces you to make irrational decisions under pressure. So we want to ensure we carry well, look after our ball and build continuity.’
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