At the end of what he calls a ‘fantastic’ World Cup, OOM RUGBY outlines the reasons why the Springboks should not be written off in the final against England.
Hi guys. First off, apologies for my English, it is my third language after Rugby and Afrikaans.
Here we are at the end of the cup – one of the best ones ever I think you will agree – and the Boks is about to take on England in the final!
But let us not beat around a bush, this will be a very tough challenge. After four years building up to this moment England is the complete package in all departments and it is not an exaggeration to say that this is among the best England teams in history.
The Springboks is on their own path that start last year and if, as they say, it take three years to build a team I think it is fair to say that the Boks is ahead of schedule. There is still a lot more to come from this group, but very strong foundations has been put in place and our success up to now have been built on wisely choosing a path of simplicity and clarity in the time available.
In the media and in the betting houses we see that the odds is stacked against the Springboks, and to the eye England certainly seem to be a most formidable opponent, but if we take a closer look at the Springbok DNA I believe we will see things that bring a more even balance to the picture.
England have the most dangerous structured attack in world rugby. Traditionally the home unions could not always rely on skill and flair based attack as much as the Southern Hemisphere, so particularly in the Premiership they have evolved attack where the structure and system is what will break you down. Japan is another nation at the forefront of this, playing with tempo, multiple options at the line, layers in attack, screens, loop plays, technical running lines, and perfect timing.
It is a new evolution that has been coming in rugby and we saw New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland (twice) was all victims to it during this World Cup. This type of attack is like a perfect Swiss Watch with many parts working together in synchronicity down to the metre.
But do you see the weakness here?
A highly structured attack that rely on this kind of coordination and timing can be disrupted. And I am not just talking about tackles … if a player is forced into a poor pass, or even a early pass, then everybody can miss their mark and the attack can break down.
This is not a guarantee of course, but the Bok defence has the necessary line speed to get up into the English passing lanes and create enough problems to throw it off the track. We saw last year in the wins over England (as well as New Zealand) just how effective it can be. It is a high risk and high reward system that drive some fans crazy but it is the right ‘antidote’ to highly structured attack because you do not give it time to develop. One of the reasons the All Blacks got punished so badly is that they did not always have the line speed to intervene early enough in England’s attack. I believe that the Bok’s defence, as simple as it is, has not quite been worked out yet by other nations and our line speed will have a big say in taking the sting out of England’s attack.
Something interesting in this World Cup was that New Zealand destroyed Ireland and look unbeatable, but then England destroyed New Zealand and also look unbeatable. So what is the truth? The truth is that if you win the war at the tackle point then you setting the table for almost certain victory. The team that lose in contact must move backwards to stay onside, so then the winner have time and space to dictate on attack or defence. It is fair to say that New Zealand was allowed to ‘look’ dominant against Ireland, and to a certain extent England was allowed to ‘look’ dominant against New Zealand. Both teams lost the contact battle and then it becomes a snowball effect.
This is not something that will easily happen to South Africa, and I don’t say this just for show. The Boks is the most aggressive team at the tackle point in world rugby and they put a high premium on dominating contact. Rugby Analytics tell us that the tournament average for dominant hits is 35%, but the Boks percentage of dominant hits sits at 69%. Don’t let this stat pass you by because it is the key to the whole puzzle. By dominating contact the Boks take away your platform and put their rush defence on the front foot on the next phase, so it is a crucial ingredient of their system.
England is very clever in how and where they attack to generate momentum – it is not just about collisions – but the Springboks has the framework and power to deal with that and take away or at least reduce the platform that the English want to get their game going.
THE FIGHT ON THE GROUND
The England match against New Zealand was scary because England look like a big white runaway truck. We have already touch on a few reasons why England had this platform, but another reason is simply that the English got quick ball so often at the rucks. England’s game is all about tempo and variation – when they get going they are like Muhammad Ali and they very hard to stop. If you allow them to play with tempo and speed from each and every ruck then you dead in the water.
The Boks, however, is a team that make it a priority to contest the breakdown. Many teams will rather stand off the tackle point so that they can have more defenders in the line, but the Boks are almost unique in how often they will get involved at opposition rucks. Rugby Analytics have measured that the tournament average for teams attending opposition breakdowns at 43%, but again the Boks show a different approach with an average of 64% of opposition rucks attended. They want to slow your ball, make it messy, and even force you to send more personnel in to secure it. The Springboks’ approach to the breakdown is another cornerstone of their defensive system and it will be a significant factor in defusing England’s attack on Saturday.
THE BOX KICK
Fans hates the box kick but the truth is every team do it because it is one of the most high-return plays in rugby. When you box kick your chasers is running forward while the catcher’s support is running backwards. From here, many things can happen and most of them is good for the kicking team. They can regather the ball, they can force a error, they can pressure the catcher and get a turnover, or a penalty for holding on, they can force a poor run, or a poor return kick from the receiving team, and we often see net territorial gains from teams who box kick regularly.
In the World Cup the box kick has been a prime weapon for the Springboks and we will see it in full force again in the final. One reason is that it is a simple and effective way to attack for a team that is still young in attack. When you build a rugby team you will always start with defence, as the Boks did, and then evolve attack. Attack is the hardest part of rugby and it take time to develop. We saw some of the best attack in the world like Australia and New Zealand come badly short against the English defence so I think you will agree that to expect the Boks to just ‘run it’ is silly.
No, the Boks will be realistic, play the odds, avoid risk, and go for victory. You may not like it but combined with our defence it is a clever way to use the strengths we have managed to build in the short time that the team have been together. The Springboks trust their defence so I believe that even to have the English run the ball back at us would be seen as a positive outcome by the coaching staff. And don’t forget the danger of the two English flanks … it will be harder for them to punish us at the breakdown if we not throwing the ball around like we in a circus. Be patient with the guys, let them be ‘boring’ now in the short term and play to their strengths to try and win the cup, and over time they will start to layer on more dimensions to the attack.
THE RASSIE FACTOR
After saying all of that, we can never count out the old fox Rassie Erasmus. While the Boks will not just pass up this chance to win the World Cup, I think we can expect to see a ambush at some point in the match. Where do we do ambush? Usually at the point where the enemy feel most comfortable, and there two areas that jump out for me as ‘predictable’ aspects of the Springbok attack that is ripe for a twist. The first is the maul. The English know that mauls is coming and they will be ready to try sack it and to fight it at the point of origin so don’t be surprised to see a clever variation or ‘fake’ play here. The second is the presence of Damian de Allende, who demands the attention of multiple defenders at all times. He is a prime carrier for the Boks on first phase as every defender in world rugby is aware, and I think we can expect a variation play off him or behind him precisely because people think they know what is coming.
I want to make one more comment and that is on the excellent discipline of the Boks and the controlled intensity they have shown so far. The Boks have a ability to play hard but stay focussed and I think that England will need to find a bit more fire to get their way against us in the tight exchanges. It is also easy to imagine them getting frustrated if they do not get a upperhand, and then guys like Sinckler, Itoje, Lawes and even Farrell can get a rush of blood and take a step too far. Don’t discount the Boks’ discipline and their ability to play with focussed intensity, and the effect that can have on a opponent who need to find a way to rise to that level.
Enjoy the game guys!