The Springboks can be expected to have a new vigour for the physicality of the game under the guidance of coach Rassie Erasmus, writes OMAR MOUNEIMNE.
You can use as many cliches as necessary to describe the undeniable charm that is the effect of a world-class bone-crunching defence in rugby. Across all sport, defence is considered to be the measure of a team’s desire to dominate their opposition and uphold the honour of their team.
Teams with aura will have the type of defence that haunts attack. The type that gets attack coaches sitting up straight at night begging the question: ‘How the heck do we break these guys down?’ I call this a ‘dogs of war’ defence. This type of defence sucks the enthusiasm out of would-be ball-carriers, leaving players almost nervous to run at you. This type of defence gets the hearts of the fans swelling up with pride because they see what being on that pitch means to the team.
Let’s face it, attack is the chocolate of the game, everybody wants the ball in their hands. Defence is the vegetable side of the game, but only the elite know the benefit. Elite teams and players in tournaments around the world such as Saracens, Crusaders, Ireland, England and the All Blacks all have savage defences when at the height of their powers. They don’t tire at the challenge of burying opponents time after time behind the gainline.
Most players’ real currency is physicality and system smarts. A lot of players have speed and a good step, or an eye for a gap, but behind the scenes, the big conversations on recruitment revolve around the question: ‘Is he physical? What’s his defence like?’ A player who scores tries, but doesn’t enjoy defence, normally won’t sustain himself in top-flight rugby.
I often ask a cross-section of professional rugby players when I first meet them if they consider themselves to be cold-killers on defence. If the answer is no, I ask them to give me a rating of their defence, with one being completely inept and 10 being the perfect defensive assassin.
Most – because it’s tough to back up defence week after week – admit to being around the six mark, which says ‘I can defend, I am pretty physical at times, but I need a lot of work to be an eight, never mind a 10’.
Every player’s defence can be stepped up and turned around to a degree, though. What does it take to create these tackling machines who guard the doors of a team’s rugby honour, who do whatever it takes week in and week out to hold teams out no matter what?
Firstly, defence – like attack– has a skills component. The skills component that people generally overlook and don’t enjoy in training is tackling. Working key skills such as tackling, footwork, vision and reaction drills help you build a defence with a strong foundation. Also, creating a ruthless defence with a sickening work rate takes a strong culture, hours of system knowledge, a brutal conditioning regime, and a very focused defence coach.
This June, the Boks will have a distinctive step-up in defence. I believe that under Rassie, you will see a new vigour for the physicality of the game. Defence organisation and collisions will stand out, as well as the work at the breakdown. You will see a ‘dogs of war’ defence.
I have previously worked very closely with Rassie for almost three years. His planning and obsession with detail are incredible. He will leave no stone unturned in improving each individual in the squads he chooses, which will lead to an increase in total team performance. I have also worked with Jacques Nienaber, and his passion for and detail for defence will be evident through the player’s commitment in game one.
Players swear by certainty, and detest fear and doubt. Rassie’s regime will always create absolute clarity in roles and responsibility. He will create a new pride in the players’ training and game performances. He is process driven, but actually follows up the processes so the cracks are not covered, but are rather repaired.
When the going gets tough, the tough get tackling, and the rest, as they say, will be history.
*Mouneimne is currently the defence and kicking strategy coach at the Worcester Warriors. He has previously coached with Italy, the Stormers, the Kings, the Sharks, Edinburgh, Lyon and Stade Français. Follow him @omarsedefence
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