Newly appointed Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer says one of his greatest challenges will be to have the country’s Super Rugby franchises on the same page.
Meyer said on Monday that his ultimate aim would be for all the teams in South Africa to adopt a similar style of rugby.
“In future I would like to install a national style of play and defence and all the attributes that go with it, and everybody should buy in,” Meyer said.
“I am realistic and know you can’t force people to play the same, but there should at least be a common goal and places where you can touch base.”
This brought me to the question is this possible at all and what is the typical South African style? I think what most SA teams have in common is the idea of dominating the set piece (scrum and line-out). Soften them up in the forwards before you spread it to the backs type of philosophy.
NZ has the same idea but for them it’s not about softening the opposition up but about dominating the contact points; you need to deserve the right to swing the ball. Get fast front foot ball first before you take it wide. So NZ developed over the years superior structure and skills at the breakdowms. They use the No8 (or one of the other loosies) to take the ball up and then have blockers, cleaners and sealers in place to recycle the ball and speed it up before sending it wide.
Lately under Graeme Henry they have also developed a style of sending the ball wide and attacking with the back three running with speed onto the ball. Most NZ franchises play like this namely dominating the breakdowns, punching holes with the loosies and sending the ball wide with decoy runners/blockers and then create play around the back three sometimes with a lock forward or prop standing wide (especially when close to the try line). The purpose of the lock forward or prop standing wide is to either secure the ball (clean out the tackler) when their attacking player get tackled or to receive the ball close to the goal line an crash through defenders to score. There is certainly a style in NZ rugby. Tony Woodcock and Ali Williams and Brad Thorne have scored a number of tries like that in both S14 and test rugby.
Look at this clip how NZ sends the ball wide utilizing blockers/decoy and double-up runners and then interplay out wide. Notice also the forwards standing out wide. In this case they didn’t use the forwards out wide but they are always positioned out there and ready to clean out or crash over.
Australia under Bob Dwyer played more off first phase ball. They would attack with speed using first phase ball and then recycle quickly and repeatedly until they score. Look at this try as an example of the typical Aussie style: Jason little try.
Another thing that all Australian teams do well is the high Aussie football type kick that drops on the opponent’s goal line with attacking players jumping for the ball.
Bennie Olser and the 1937 Springboks have set the South African style of scrum them into the ground and then have a general at flyhalf that keep the ball in front of the forwards with long raking line and tactical kicks.
In 1952 Craven deviated from this strategy by starting to use fast loose forwards that link with the inside backs on attack. This was a highly successful approach and the 52/53 Springboks went undefeated through the UK and France. This strategy unfortunately didn’t work on the softer NZ grounds in 1956 and the ‘seagulls’ hanging wide was seen as one of the main reason why SA lost that series. It was a style that would have worked against the same NZ team in South Africa as 1949 and 1960 proved. What were needed in 1956 on the softer grounds were small adjustments to our rucking namely more structure and better control went we went into contact with the ball.
This style of fast loosies linking with the backs is typical Stellenbosch/province rugby. Remember those tries Rob Louw scored in the first and second tests against the 1980 British Lions. Northern Transvaal rugby has always been about scrum and line-out power with roll mauls of the scrums and from the base of the scrum.
Superior Springbok teams were teams that married the Province and Northern Transvaal style; solid set piece with some play off that and fast loose forwards that can link with the backs, in my opinion.
Meyer went on and said: “I would have loved to have started with an extensive planning session where we could put in a national strategy with the way we want to play, but at this stage it is a little bit late.”
“My main aim is to set a great working relationship with them because they see the players much more than I do, and that is why I want to go around and spend time and see what they are doing at the franchises.”
I think Meyer is spot on.
They way forward is too make small adjustments to the styles of the various provinces (Sharks, Cheetahs, Province, Lions and Bulls) with-out ruining their individuality. The Sharks play a mix between the Stormers and Bulls while the Lions under Mitchell are targeting the breakdowns like the NZ teams. The Cheetahs play counter attacking rugby; riding the opponents attack until they make a mistake and then pounce with speed onto that loose ball.
The one common feature all SA teams have is solid set piece (scrum and lineout) but lately we’ve lost our style of using fast loosies to link with the backs as well using our big forwards to roll maul the ball up (essentially keeping the ball of the ground). In one of our best games during the 2011 RWC namely against Fiji we kept the ball off the ground and used our forwards to take the ball up but off-loading to supportive runners coming from depth.
A good grasp of the basics, Meyer said, would always be important in rugby, but he warned that South Africa needed to adapt to the law changes and new styles of play or be left behind.
“One thing that will definitely change is the conditioning of the players,” he said.
“It is a longer season and there are more games, and the games are quicker and the ball is longer in play.
I think Meyer is spot on in this regard but we need to be careful not to try and play Aussie or NZ type rugby. Our strength is in our big forwards and we need to adjust to the faster game with-out neglecting that strength.
Interesting times ahead but I like what I’m seeing from Meyer.