Rushing the runners

Wales coach Warren Gatland says the Springboks should expect minimal space to operate on Saturday.

This, as Wales plan to unveil the first phase of their rush defence system. Just prior to the start of the Six Nations, Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards told The Independent that they were working on implementing a defensive system similar to what he utilised successfully at Wasps.

The Springboks used this tactic successfully at the start of former head coach Jake White’s tenure in 2004. They carried it through to 2006 before developing a hybrid of drift and rush defence, where the players were empowered to make the decision of when to utilise either.

The change came about largely because the system’s flaws were being exploited by Australia and New Zealand, who often employed grubbers and chip kicks through or over the defensive line, freeing up their runners. There is, however, no doubt that the surprise factor they had in 2004 stunned those sides and contributed significantly to their Tri-Nations success that year.

Edwards’s Rugby League roots (he was an England international and eight-time Rugby League Championship winner with Wigan) means he’s well versed in the technicalities and execution of the defensive system.

The embryonic stage of that plan, Edwards told The Independent, would be seen on their tour to South Africa and Gatland confirmed this.

“You’ll definitely see elements of that defensive systems against the Springboks,” Gatland told keo.co.za.

“The Springboks have spoken openly about wanting to play an expansive game and if they do that we’ll have to look to close their space down as much as possible. Southern hemisphere teams generally tend to look to create space for their strike runners out wide and the Springboks will be no different, especially with a player of Habana’s quality on the wing. The rush defensive system can help us achieve our goal of cutting down their space.”

Gatland did, however, temper his comments saying: “But you have to understand that it’ll take time before we master it. The players are still learning to operate in the system. It’s not something that you develop overnight. We’ve set ourselves the goal of 12 months before we’re operating at optimal level.”

Pressuring the Boks is one battle won, but Gatland was acutely aware that they needed to dominate the collisions when they made the hit.

“It’s crucial that the boys aren’t falling off tackles and that the breakdown contest is good when the ball carrier hits the deck. Referees tend to be subjective in their officiating at the breakdown, but Dave Pearson [England] is strong at the breakdown and I’m confident he’ll give both teams the opportunity to be positive [in their general play] by not allowing any team to spoil possession.

“If that happens we’re confident we can ask some questions of the Springboks.”

By Ryan Vrede