JON CARDINELLI says the Welsh attack will struggle for quick ball as long as Springbok opensider Heinrich Brüssow is on the park.
‘They don’t play any rugby,’ Warren Gatland told reporters when asked about the Boks last week. ‘They’re very good at what they do in terms of set piece and they put the ball up in the air, use the power runners effectively and they’re a strong defensive side.’
The Welsh fancy an upset this Sunday, and Gatland’s backhanded compliment suggests they will employ a contrasting approach to that of the Boks. They are backing themselves to bully the Boks upfront, and backing themselves to cut the renowned Bok defence with an expansive display.
What they are perhaps not accounting for is the influence of Heinrich Brüssow, who despite a lack of game time in 2011 has proved himself to be just as devastating as he was in that career-defining 2009 British & Irish Lions series.
Gatland was the Lions’ forwards coach on that tour, and was among those who questioned the legality of Brüssow’s display at the breakdown. No doubt the Wales management will have a word with referee Wayne Barnes ahead of Sunday’s Pool D clash in Wellington, as Wales’ success will depend on quick ball from the rucks.
A lot has changed since that Lions series. In 2010, the breakdown laws changed to favour attacking teams, and changed again in 2011 to allow for more of a contest. World Cup referees have now been instructed to police the ruck more strictly, and it is because of this that Gatland and co may feel Brüssow won’t be as much of a factor.
And yet, perhaps the Wales coaches underestimate Brüssow’s ability to adapt to the situation. Coming off the bench in a Currie Cup game played in early August, it didn’t take long for Brüssow to influence the outcome. Brüssow proved that he still had the ability to make the big decisions, and that he knew when to go for the steal and just how far he could push the matchday referee. Ultimately, he proved that he still had what it took to be a match-winner, as his breakdown performance inspired a turnaround and the Cheetahs beat WP.
His impact in the last two Tri-Nations Tests was profound, although it was only in the latter game where the Boks tasted victory. In Durban, he played for 50 minutes and stifled the Wallabies’ attack. It came as no surprise when the visitors enjoyed more continuity when Brüssow was substituted. He was again one of the standouts against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth, manipulating the breakdown to the extent that the visitors struggled for decent go-forward ball.
Some players take some time to adjust when returning from an injury. Specialist fetchers tend to give away a few penalties as they reacquaint themselves with the pace of top-flight rugby (Richie McCaw battled to regain his form after returning in the recent Super Rugby tournament), but Brüssow’s decision making has been spot on.
That he’s lost none of that potency and precision bodes badly for the Welsh. Unless they dominate the Boks at the collisions, they will struggle to nullify Brüssow. Failure to overpower the Bok heavies will allow Brüssow to win the ball on the ground or at least slow the ruck recycle to the point where his fellow defenders have time to realign for the next wave of attack.