The tackle offload must become a key feature of the Springboks' attacking evolution, writes RYAN VREDE.
This isn't a call for the Springboks to adopt a cavalier approach. The All Blacks have a relatively low risk approach but are undeniably the best attacking side in the game. Mindless expansive attack would almost certainly compromise the Springboks' chances of winning. The potential reward won't justify the risk. I'm simply asking that the Springboks use the remainder of the Rugby Championship to grow their attacking game to include more tackle offloads.
In my view it's one of the major areas the All Blacks trump the Springboks, and in the latter's bid to unseat the world champions this is a gap they have to close. The All Blacks benefit significantly from their ability to commit a defender, often two, and offload to a support runner, thereby ensuring the attacking continuity that even the world's elite sides have struggled to negotiate. When they've been blunted in this regard their opponents have found their task a less arduous one, but in recent history only England (2012) have done it consistently well enough to translate that dominance into victory.
Breaching the gainline of a top side is extremely difficult (particularly from set phases) but the Blacks have used the tackle offload to strengthen their cause in this regard. Their runners attack the space around a defender, protect the ball well in contact and then have the skill and awareness to dish off to support runners (whose running line is coached, not incidental) if it's on. The ability to make the right decision – offload or go to ground – is critical and they seldom make the incorrect call.
The Springboks, when they're purring, are a formidable attacking force. Yet their potency has relied heavily on physically dominating defenders then going to ground and recycling in a multi-phase wave. This approach can become predictable and easier to counter if they're not bossing the tackle.
It would be remiss not to note that Heyneke Meyer and his assistants have improved the Springboks' attack during their tenure. They ended 2013 as the side with the highest average number of tries scored per Test and ran in four tries against the Blacks at Ellis Park, four against Australia in Brisbane and crossed the chalk three times against the same opponents at Newlands. There is a lot right about their attack, although Meyer and co have admitted that they're struggling to reach last year's levels at present. The point is that the next step in their attacking growth must include greater use of the tackle offload.
If you're measuring yourself against the best in the world, it stands to reason that you look to replicate the replicable elements of their game that make them the pre-eminent force. And the Springboks have the personnel and skill to do so. We've only seen fleeting glimpses of it to date but those glimpses should inspire the team to build on them and make it part of the attacking fabric.
Again I stress that the adoption of the tackle offload should never come at the expense of the tactical foundations they've established. These foundations – territory achieved by good tactical kicking and pressure defence – are, in my view, the right fit for the Springboks. There are, however, broken field situations that are engineered from poor kick returns or defensive mismatches (hulking forwards on smaller backs) that offer opportunities to utilise the tackle offload.
At present, the Kiwis populate the majority of the spots in the offload top 20 charts, with a good balance of their forwards and backs featuring. Only Willie le Roux is there from the Springboks (fourth with four offloads). We have to take into account that the weather in the Loftus Test against Argentina made it difficult to execute this skill, but I'd argue that it's easier to catch a popped pass at close range than it is to catch a spinning ball coming from 5-10m away, although holding onto a wet ball in contact (pre-offload) is an altogether tougher task.
The Springboks can close the gap on the Blacks this year, but it will require them to add to their attacking arsenal. The tackle offload is one such weapon that can be acquired with relatively little risk and potentially huge rewards.
Photo: Anne Lainge/HSM Images
Stats: Vodacom Rugby Stats App