The dust has settled on Japan 2019 but as South Africa continues to celebrate the final win, we asked Oom Rugby to highlight the moments you missed as the Boks demolished England.
Hi guys. First off, apologies for my English, it is my third language after Rugby and Afrikaans.
So here we are after a wonderful World Cup in Japan, and of course as Springboks supporters we especially happy that our boys managed to win it. But even before the final this tournament was already special. The Japanese was incredible hosts, we saw some fantastic games and upsets, and I especially enjoyed the Tier 2 nation matches because of their passion, their excellent level of rugby, and to see new friends joining our rugby family.
But, of course, the final was the crowning cherry, and I thought that today I will take a look at a couple of small moments that jump out for me. So much analysis have been done on the BIG reasons the Springboks won, so I thought I will just take a look at a few interesting small things.
Like many teams the Boks has a policy of making double hits on defence, and when we watch this game against we see just how effective it was. England is a team that want to play with momentum and tempo, but to do that they must first win the gainline on early carries. The Boks denied them this platform with double tackles in the narrow channels and from this the English struggled to win any time and space for their wonderful backline attack. The Boks derail the train by blowing up the station. Below is a great example as we see Marx and Mostert driving Vunipola back in contact just when England is hoping to dent the defence to create a chance.
There is nothing new about double hits, and we saw England doing it as well in this match because historically it has been a way to stop the Bok tractor. But the Boks was ready or this with their own tactic. They used a lot of latch carries with two guys binding on the carrier and driving him forward through contact. Not only did this create huge power and a more favourable ‘3 vs 2’ equation, but the latchers was in a position to immediately seal over the ball on completion of the tackle giving the Boks gainline as well as clean ball. Below we see Eben carrying with du Toit and Lood on the latch, making about 7 meters of gain against the double tackle of Itoje and Cole.
Winning contact is not always about brutal force, even though we have seen previous Bok teams just purely try run over opponents. It also come down to the individual carrier and the little chess game he can play with the tackler just before they meet. Below we see Underhill is marking De Jager, but as Lood approach he first sidestep to his left and then cut back in. This mean Underhill must change direction and Lood can then attack his weaker shoulder and the space inside him. It sound like small thing, but footwork is a crucial thing to establish a advantage during contact and it is good to see supposing ‘one dimensional’ Bok forwards using proper contact technique.
The Boks was the team that contested by far the most breakdowns in the World Cup. Rugby Analytics tell us that they visited 64% of all opposition attacking rucks compared to the tournament average of only 43% for other teams. When they do it, the Boks is not even looking to steal the ball as much as they want to slow it down or just force the opposition to send in more cleaners (which mean they will have less numbers on attack).
But in the final, the Boks decided to contest only 36% of England rucks. This is really interesting because it is almost half of their usual approach. So there was a different policy in this game for extra players to not get involved at the breakdown. The reason the Boks did this is because they wanted to have defenders on their feet, in the line, ready to make big double hits or to shoot up and kill England backline play.
It can also be that because of the excellent England flanks and cleaning systems that the Boks felt they would not get as much joy by interfering, and rather use their defenders in other ways. Below we see Siya and Beast smash Curry back over the gainline but nobody else is getting involved. Malherbe, Pollard and De Allende is all on their feet, organising and planning for the next wave.
What is also interesting is that Rugby Analytics tell us that at 28% of Springbok tackles the tackler himself got involved in the ruck, which is quite high. This signal that while the Boks wanted men on their feet, they still wanted a presence to try slow at the source.
Pieter-Steph Du Toit
If you look at the picture above again you will see that that by leaving the breakdowns alone it freed up du Toit especially to be the Boks prime ‘shooter’. He hunted down the England backs the whole day by jumping out of the line and on many occasions totally throwed their rhythm. We had conversations about how this kind of ‘rapid shooter’ can disrupt the structured attack of England, and that is exactly what happened.
Below we see him sprinting onto Ford as he did time and time again, forcing him into poor passes or early passes. By avoiding the breakdown the Boks gave the Malmesbury Missile the freedom to make chaos and disrupt the slick England attack at source.
But England did not help themself against the Bok defence, which as I have said before has not been quite worked out by other nations yet. One way to try deal with it is to play narrower and play inside the rush, although when England did this they ran into heavy traffic. Many teams think you can stand deeper and try get around the Boks, but the truth is that the deeper you stand the deeper they will catch you, and the deeper trouble you get into. Below we see England have a number superiority but could not score. As they pass the ball deeper and deeper the Bok rushers just adjust onto each new receiver. I believe part of the answer is to stand flatter against the Boks, fixing each defender to make your numbers count. It is easier said than done and attackers will have to set a very specific depth to achieve this (and use quick hands) but if you look below and picture flatter English runners you see that the space was there.
It is easy to get lost in the big things that the Boks does in defence, but we must also appreciate the small moments of technique, coaching and instinct that the players brings to the party. Have a look at what Am is doing below and you will get an idea of what I am saying. Am came up fast, but then he stopped at a specific pressure point inside the England passing lanes. Then if you look closely you will see that he is facing Ford – it is not just a ‘shoot’ up.
What Am is doing is to first block Ford’s wide passing option. Ford is then forced to pass shorter, and as we see Am then simply adjust and move onto Daly when he get the ball. If Ford did try to go wide he will have to pass a loop over Am, which will give Kolbe time to adjust onto May. This is the kind of positional chess that made Jean de Villiers and Jacques Fourie the best in the world, and Lukhanyo Am is fast going into their company as a cornerstone of the Bok D system.
Return to Play
Rugby is a numbers game. You want to attack areas with less numbers, and you want to make sure you can defend with enough numbers. As we have seen, there many choices that coaches can make about how they will approach numbers: numbers at the breakdown, numbers in the line, numbers at the back, numbers in the tackle, etc to try and juggle the outcomes they want with the 15 players they have on the field.
But there is one area that is critical to the ‘numbers’ game and that is how quickly players return to play after completing a action. The Boks actually has a specialist RTP coach, Mzwandile Stick, who was brought into the system by Rassie in 2016 to bring the workrate and techniques from Sevens rugby into the test set-up. If we look at the image below we see it in action. Damian just completed a tackle, rolled away, got back on his feet, and then joined the line in defence all in the space of 4 seconds. It is a combination of technique, running lines, conditioning and attitude that go into a moment like this, and which give the Boks almost a extra man on the field.
Bombs from 10
Another tweak that catch England unaware was that the Boks kicked sometimes from 10, and not from 9 as they usually did. And interesting it was Willie who executed these kicks from first receiver. Below we see him launch a cross-field bomb to the left wing that the excellent Makazole regathered in the air. What was the value of doing this? Firstly, the English was set-up for the expected kicks from 9. So the England 15 will stand almost opposite the ruck we see at top of frame. Then, every team have triggers, so when Faf passed it signal to the England backs that the run is on and to rush up. Having committed England to the rush shape, the Boks could then kick onto a wing who was now more isolated, as his support is charging up field away from him. It was a small chess move that had big rewards for the Boks.
The example above signalled more variation in how the Boks kicked, and it was something we been waiting to see from them. It kept the England back three unbalanced and uncertain as they were not always sure on what depth to take, or how far to track across the field. And the England rushers were not always sure if they must really commit to going up, or if they will have to track back to assist the catcher. Below is another example of creating uncertainty in the England back three, and then capitalising on the space on offer with yet a another variation.
The Boks again trigger a ‘run’ D from England when Faf passes. We can see that the fullback Daly is standing in more of a box kick defensive position and the England wing Watson is already pushing up. Willie see this and instead of launching a bomb simply push the ball into the massive space available at the back. Daly gather but have no time and is pressure into a poor kick for a Bok lineout on the England 22m.
So there it is guys, just a few little things that I notice that you can look out for when you watch the game again, as I know you will! The Boks had a little bit of luck here and there, and the ref was kind to them at times, but this was absolutely a victory of preparation, clarity and tactics. It was simple, but it worked. And we look forward to see how this group can go forward and how they can build and evolve from here.
Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images