There have been a number of really interesting articles over the last two days here on Sport24. The initial emphasis was on dissecting the Wallaby/SA clash and in particular the post-match statement by Jean de Villiers that the Springboks have not changed their game plan; that they are mainly executing better.
Brendan Nel wrote an article stating that Jean was right. He writes: “Jean de Villiers may have stunned the whole country with what he said on Saturday night – that the Springboks had not changed their game-plan, but he was right.”
“We haven’t changed one thing,” De Villiers said. “The thing that has changed is that we are now capitalising on the pressure we put on the opposition. People don’t seem to understand that.
“We have shown that we can create, and now we are starting to finish. It’s not that we went out there with a more attacking mindset. It was more about playing the situation.
“If the opposition leaves men back, then obviously there is more space to attack from close. If they bring men up, then you will kick to the back to find the space. No defence is watertight, there is always space. It’s about finding out where that space is and exploiting it.”
De Villiers is saying in essence that they are starting to play heads-up rugby. I lamented about the boks inability to play heads-up rugby in my previous post.
In another article “Boks grasping my plan” Heyneke Meyer were making remarks along the same lines. He said that his team’s improved performance against Australia was down to the players understanding what he wanted from them.
“What we did better was the execution of the game plan, and we can even execute much better,” Meyer said.
“When I went through the video today there was almost silence for the whole video because there was not much that I could add,” Meyer said.
“They are starting to understand the game plan, what we want from them and how we want them to play.”
What Meyer and Jean de Villiers failed to mention was the influence of player selection in the last two games. The selection of Louw made a difference in Dunedin and Goosen influence in the Springboks ability to execute the game plan was huge at Loftus.
The Springboks were dreadful in terms of attacking the advantage line with speed (on attack and defence) in Perth. They made a big step-up in that regard in Dunedin and last weekend at Loftus. The influence of François Louw at the breakdowns and the fact that Duane Vermeulen is also contributing in that department is undeniable. Goosen took it another notch up with his ability to play flat on the defensive line and with his feeling for time and space.
I thought the major difference on the weekend was firstly that we won the battle at the breakdowns (as compared to Perth) and secondly that we played flatter on the defensive line on attack. Goosen was instrumental in that but his play was helped by the fact that our loose forwards are starting to gel as a combination.
The other difference I noticed was that we tried to keep the ball alive. We kept the ball in the air at the tackle which took their pilfers out of the match but it also allowed us to offload in the tackle. This prevented them from slowing our ball down and we could keep our momentum. Lastly I noticed that we also started to run more angles in the backline and that players like Alberts are running into space instead of trying to smash opponents out of the way.
This weekend will pose a different challenge and one of the first remarks that New Zealanders make over here is that Read and Kie is going to take Goosen out of the game if he plays so flat on the defensive line.
Goosen ability to have impact will depend on us dominating the breakdowns. Goosen will also need to read the game and make sure that he is not too predictable in terms of attacking the advantage line. Dropping back into the pocket might be a good idea if we don’t have front foot ball. From our side we need to make sure the All Black halfbacks are under constant pressure as Carter will run the game if allowed to. Carter was influencial in the AB big win in Argentina and we need to make sure he gets poor ball if we want to win the Soweto test.
I reckon the All Blacks are going to approach the game with two main strategies. Firstly they would want to get an early lead in an attempt to take the crowd out of the match but it will also force the Springboks to play a more expansive game. I think the All Black coaches are aware that the boks are going to try and play a high tempo game which is not necessarily synonymous with being more expansive. High tempo can be done by keeping the ball alive at the tackle; by not going to ground; and by off-loading in the tackle. The boks would prefer to play high tempo stuff in the AB half of the field. Being behind on the score board might force the boks to open the game up more than they would want to resulting in mistakes that can leak tries as was the case with the Argentinians last weekend.
The All Blacks second strategy I believe is that they are going to move the ball wide away from pressure instead of running it up in the narrow channels. They are going to attack us in the midfield with Nonu running a fast straight line from deep and/or by using Nonu as a dummy runner in order to pass the ball behind him to Cory Jane, Savea and Dagg with long passes and then play off the wingers. Our defence in the midfield and in the outside channels are going to be tested.
In another article All Black assistant coach Ian Foster cautioned the Springboks on the dangers of taking on the World Champions with an expansive game ahead of their Rugby Championship match on Saturday.
“Our game’s reasonably obvious, we don’t change it too much, if teams want to stretch us that is their decision and if they do it well then we are under stress and we have to defend well,” Foster said on Tuesday.
“If you play an expansive game it does come with a risk of errors and we’ve probably been through that process a little bit already and it doesn’t come naturally you’ve got to work hard at it.”
Foster said South Africa’s performance against Australia in the penultimate round of the four-nation series suggested the Boks would play a more expansive game in Soweto on Saturday.
“They have a different kind of team and they certainly look like they had intentions to play with a bit of more width than they did against us in Dunedin and I guess we expect that to continue,” he said.
“It is still South Africa-All Blacks, they may chuck a few different things at us and they seem to have a lot of confidence in the way they played last week.”
“For us it is business as normal on our game, we want to keep running our game to us it is about how well we play and that is really important to us.”
While the Springboks finally displayed some attacking nous against the Wallabies, Foster believed the South Africans would still use aerial bombardment to unsettle his side.
“We are still expecting the odd high, we are still expecting a tough physical battle through their forwards, through drives so some things won’t change,” Foster said.
In line with the last statement Heyneke Meyer said in another “Pressure, not running will beat All Blacks”.
Brendan Nel writes that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has rejected suggestions the Boks will try and run the All Blacks off their feet when the two meet in their Castle Rugby Championship showdown at FNB Stadium on Saturday.
Meyer has been solid in his mantra that the Boks need to be “tactically astute” when they face the World Champions, and Argentina’s capitulation early on Sunday morning SA time has only served to underline this for the Bok management.
The Pumas were beaten 54-15, in large part because they tried to take on the All Blacks at their own game, and tried to run everything at them.
Every time a mistake was made, Los Pumas were punished and the All Blacks recorded a massive victory by not altering their game- plan. But since the Boks’ demolition of Australia at Loftus, there is a sense that the team should play a more expansive game, and there have even been suggestions that the Boks had changed their game-plan.
This is exactly what Ian Foster is talking about when he says run at us at your own peril and at least Meyer is astute enough to realise the futility of such an approach.
Nel continuous in his article and writes: “If the Springboks play is tactically correct, and they use the opportunities they create, they can go a long way to upsetting the world’s No 1 team.”
He then refers to the following remarks made by Heyneke Meyer: “If you look at Super Rugby as well, a lot of teams often play better rugby away from home. At home there is pressure to run the ball more. New Zealand likes that and if you give them turnovers, they will definitely punish you.
“Obviously we want to play great rugby and we want to score tries, but you have to find the balance between when to attack and when to play tactically.”
“Every game has its own personality and I even said in the pre-game press conference I think this game is going to open up and it will suit us. People didn’t understand what I meant but it would give us a chance to play from their turnovers as well.”
“What you have to do is realise you will never beat New Zealand by trying to play their game plan. They have quality athletes from 1-15 and a lot of gamebreakers. We also have a few.
“The one way to beat New Zealand is to apply pressure to them. You’re not going to outrun them. Obviously you have to run in the right areas, and we do want to score tries, but the only way to beat them is to put pressure on them, especially at the breakdown, in your defence and in the kicking game as well.
“You will have to put a lot of pressure on them and force them to play our type of game and force them to make mistakes, and then score off those mistakes.”
I like the above quoted remarks by Meyer. I think Meyer is trying to get the players to read the situation. To play heads-up rugby and not to go into the game with a rigid pre-set game plan like swinging the ball wildly to the edges with the aim of running the opposition “of their legs” or to kick and chase everything.
It seems to me that he is trying to coach the players to keep the ball alive when entering contact (as compared to stereotype going to ground and recycle or stereo type smashing it up). He is not talking about an ‘expansive game’ but about reading the situation, making the right decisions and about speeding the game-up when the situation allows it. Once you succeed in keeping the ball in the air you can speed it up especially if you succeed in getting the defenders on the back foot and on the retreat. Speeding the game up in such situations allow you to keep ascendency and maintain forward momentum. When you start to speed the game up you need players that can play flat on the advantage line and who can put your runners into space with good timed passes.
It is in this last area that I thought we were better than in previous matches. We had in short a player in the pivotal position of flyhalf that allowed us to speed the game up and who could put players into space. The remarks made by Louis Koen that Morné Steyn still has a future in bok rugby is therefore pretty disturbing to me and indicate that Koen was oblivious to what actually happened last weekend at Loftus.
Maybe it’s time that Meyer get another kicking coach especially considering the atrocious performance of the Springbok place kickers so far this season.