GRANT BALL writes that the Springbok backs’ failings and breakdown woes stem from an impotent attacking game.
Why did South Africa have the best players in the world during the Super 14, and only a few weeks later look out of their league on the international stage? Have the players’ abilities waned? The short answer is no, but the problem comes from the Boks’ one-dimensional attacking game.
The Boks’ kick-chase approach is still a valuable tactic if executed properly, but their major flaw is they look inept once they have possession in good areas of the field. Morne Steyn, Wynand Olivier, Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana’s form have all been questioned, but why did they look so dangerous in the blue jerseys of the Stormers and Bulls, but look a shadow of those attacking forces now?
In the green and gold, those players clearly haven’t been given a plan of how they want to break down defences. The All Blacks aren’t all of a sudden superior physical specimens to the South Africans, it’s the clever way Graham Henry and co have used what they have at their disposal. The Kiwi brains are outplaying the Boks, who are over-reliant on their brawn.
It’s clear the Boks want to to play for territory, which is still the correct route under the new law interpretations. But once they have attacking options, they look clueless, and this can’t be blamed solely on the players.
Dick Muir has been a proponent of ‘heads up rugby’, but with little attacking structure under his control, the talented Bok backs haven’t been able excel. The Boks’ forward runners also aren’t dominating the collisions and handing their backs a decent platform to attack from, but this too can be blamed on the predictable nature of the attack. There is little subtlety or variety in the form of dummy runners, a la the 2007 World Cup. There the big Boks were running one-on-one at defenders, but now the Boks are facing a line of defenders who don’t need to guess where the ball is going.
All the All Blacks require is to man up in the physicality stakes, which they have done, and because they know where the ball is headed, the Boks are easily repelled as the Blacks can defend offensively. With a little imagination from the Boks (for example Danie Rossouw’s try where Ricky Januarie had options in Jean de Villiers and outside backs off the lineout), the Boks showed how difficult they could be to stop. Rossouw crashing over was a rare case of a Bok heavy dominating the collision. The reason for it: the improved attack.
Peter de Villiers has predictably blamed the officiating of the breakdowns as a cause for concern. While there may be some merit in that argument after Alain Rolland’s handling of the tackle area, the Boks would be better served looking at their own inadequacies rather than whining.
Just one example of the Boks’ own attacking failings is Mils’ Muliaina’s first half try. The Boks’ predictable forward runners halted, the ball was flung out to Steyn who shovelled on to an isolated Fourie. The rest of the Bok backs didn’t know the plan, the ball turned over, and the result was five points 75m down field.
The disconcerting point is why hasn’t the Boks’ attacking game evolved since 2007? Just look at Dublin last year as another apt example. It’s fair to say the Boks have at best stagnated, at worst, regressed.
The players can’t be blamed here. While De Villiers and Muir have talked a wonderful game in terms of the Boks’ attack, they haven’t once produced anything post-2007 to make their opponents worry.
By Grant Ball