Here is something really hot. Too hot to handle. If she was a rugbyball I would have had real sympathy with the bulls for spilling the ball everytime the go in to contact (that sounds real suggestive I know) but this is not the hot potato I want to write about. I have an issue with the SA rugby players inabilty to control the ball when they go into the collisions.
This weekend revealed the problem with South African rugby to be hot potato-ittis. The old disease of spilling the ball forward in the tackle took on epidemic proportions in the South African teams. The bulls in particular were spectacularly awful in this department. It was also prevalent at crucial moments in the Stormers match although not so frequent.
The Sharks had similar problems the previous two weekends against the kiwi teams and I got the distinct impression that the Kiwi teams are targeting the ball in the tackle as a counter measure for the power play tactics of the South African teams.
This counter-power-play-tactic of the kiwi teams, in particular, work because South African teams try and barge through opponents instead of attacking space.
Coaching my u/11 boy’s rugby team one of the fundamentals of kiwi rugby I’ve picked-up is to coach players to step into space before they hit contact. The players learn to step of the line (sidestep away from the defender and then into the defender) just before taking the ball up. This technique has a number of advantages.
One, it prevents T-boning like what happened with Flip van der Merwe against the Crusaders.
Two, it allows the ball carrier to get his body between the defender and the ball; consequently preventing the opponent from tackling in on the ball and dislodge it.
Three, it allows the attacking player to either off-load or have a supportive player -running on his outside shoulder- taking the ball out of his hands before the ball goes to ground.
Lastly, stepping off-line before you hit contact pulls the next defender out of his defensive channel as an automatic reaction to the attacker moving into space. This breaks the defensive line and that is why a flip off-load will put the next ball carrier into space.
Go and study replay’s of the Sonny Bill and Crusaders off-loads and you’ll notice that in the majority of instances they (SBW and Crusaders) step off the line just before making contact. This wrong foots the opponent and allows the ball carriers that split second too offload.
The cure for the hot-potato-ittis disease of SA rugby is simply to teach the players to step into space before they hit contact. The Crusaders also use angled runners to attack space and these angled runners are normally the ones that either punch the holes or offload at the moment of impact.
Even the pods -though it requires some practice- can work with this step off-the-line tactic. One way to do a pod and a step off the line is for the attacking team to charge up in numbers. The ball carrier step off the line, next player take the ball with rear support to force him through the gap. If the gap opens up for the first supporter then his rear support player are in position for a offload, pass or to support in the next contact.
Other than that I thought the bulls didn’t show-up for the match mostly because they didn’t think they can win the Crusaders in New Zealand and the Stormers suffered from the age old destroyer of teams and players namely Grootkop-ittis.
Shocking was the similarities in body language -before the match and during the first 10 minutes- of the Stormers players and those of the Springboks at the start of last years tri-nations test against the All Blacks. That swagger and carry of shoulder and head that indicate I am something special and this will be a walk in the park because we are SOO GOOD was nauseatingly prevalent at the start of the Stormers/Reds match.
One of the primary things that happen with grootkop-ittis is the shift from an internal focus to an predominantly external focus resulting in players not concentrating on primary tasks but playing for the pavilion. This is of course Bryan Habana’s problem too; evident with his little throw-up of hands and head shaking when he make a mistake. He make mistakes because he is busy playing for the spectators namely too concerned how it looks rather than focusing on the task at hand. The result of this playing for the pavilion for the Stormers this weekend was three yellow cards and 30 minutes with 14 players on the field.
The Stormers/Reds game also hinted that tactical kicks are still important in the modern game. When two teams match up in terms of set piece, work rate at the breakdowns and defense then your tactical kickers still seems to determine outcome.
Genia and more specifically Cooper won the tactical kicking battle comprehensively against Duvenhage and Grant. The Reds didn’t allow the Stormers to dominate the breakdowns as was normally the case against all other opponents this year and Grant and Duvenhage needed to step-up and unfortunately that didn’t happen. The result was that Stormers lost the territorial battle and the penalty battle.
I’ve been impressed with Grant so far this season and a dictating performance this weekend would have seen him step into my slot as first choice Springbok flyhalf. What I like about Grant is his ability to grow and improve other than Morné Steyn who seems to be stuck in yesterday’s model of flyhalf play. Hopefully Grant will emerge from this with some better understanding of his importance when his team struggle to attain dominance at the breakdowns.
Overall, the Bulls look like a team on the down while the Stormers looked like a team just a little too sure of itself needing a wake-up.
Cheetahs showed some real fighting spirit against the Highlanders and impressed with their creativity with the ball in hand.
Lions had their moments in the first two or three matches this year now it’s back to the same-old, same-old scenario of being gutsy losers. Sharks as usual impressed against the weaker teams but I haven’t seen anything that suggests they’ll be able to win the big guns come next time round.