With the Springboks poised for another Rugby Championship assault, let's bury the rhetoric that tactical kicking is a bad thing, writes RYAN VREDE.
The Springboks will kick often in the Rugby Championship. But so will the All Blacks. Indeed the world champions have consistently kicked tactically more often than their traditional rivals. The perception of them as a run-or-die team is deeply flawed, as is the enduring perception of the Springboks as a kick-at-all-costs one.
The Blacks have, however, consistently kicked more accurately than any team in the game in recent history. Therein lies the crux – in this regard the teams are separated by the quality of their kick execution, not by them being on opposite ends of the tactical continuum.
The most successful New Zealand franchise, the Crusaders, have too been serial kickers. They finished this year's tournament ranked second only to the Sharks in terms of kicks from hand. Consider also that four of the top six teams in the competition at the end of the league phase (Sharks, Crusaders, Brumbies and Highlanders) were serial kickers (the Waratahs kicked the least but didn't have the personnel to adopt this strategy effectively).
The best teams understand the value of territory, the pressure you are able to exert in opposition territory without the ball (particularly if they are likely to return good kicks with runs) and the excellent broken-field opportunity a poorly returned kick can present (if the opposition go this route in response). The Blacks have precisely this philosophy.
They weigh the value of testing highly sophisticated defensive systems through deep-birthed, multi-phase attacks against the potential value of kicking and forcing an error through pressure defence. They deem the former a significantly more effective approach. The stats support that assertion. Again, the Springboks' philosophy is the same, only lacking in the quality and consistency of the Blacks' kicking game. It would be remiss not to note the Blacks blend it with a game-breaking dimension unmatched by any side in the game. The hybrid is potent.
The Springboks have, however, grown their game to a point where their reading of the defence's set-up determines their action. No longer do they kick indiscriminately, instead key decision-makers have seen overlaps in the wide channels and sought to capitalise on those, even if they are deep in their territory. It's added a fresh dimension to the Springboks' attacking play and diminished an air of predictability they had in the first season under Heyneke Meyer.
In 2013 the Springboks scored more tries on average than any other team in the world, many of those tries emanating from the error-inducing pressure that dominating territory creates. Expect them to have a similar approach in the Rugby Championship. They have the personnel, if executed correctly, to make that method a highly successful one.
Certain opinion shapers in the broadcast media have and will lament the amount of kicking the Springboks do in the Rugby Championship, advocating a ball-in-hand approach. Don't allow this rhetoric to poison your thinking. Teams that run from the ends of the earth are entertaining but won't win trophies. Ones that kick often and expertly, do.
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