Trend changes demands Bok vigilance

Schalk Burger says attacking teams are being favoured at the breakdown and says adaptation here will be central to any team’s success.

Midway through Super Rugby number of coaches pointed to swing towards a fairer contest in this facet of play, where in 2010 the attacking sides were heavily favoured.

Heyneke Meyer told this improved the Springboks’ chances at the World Cup. ‘Last year, because the law interpretations at the breakdown were new, referees were policing that area far more vigilantly. The attacking team was heavily favoured and teams that could keep the ball through multiple phases thrived. Defending teams struggled to turn over possession, and only the smartest openside flankers were a factor as a result. There was so much quick ball, but that isn’t the case any longer – it’s a contest again,’ he said.

‘It’s also a key reason the Stormers performed as well as they did. They competed brilliantly at the breakdown and were able to set their defensive line, making it very, very difficult to breach them. This trend has placed an added importance on tactical kicking, and when you look at the ingredients that will improve a team’s chances of being successful at the World Cup – tactical kicking, solid defence and a strong ruck contest – the Springboks tick all the boxes. I had reservations about our ability to play the multi-phase, high-tempo game that the rules encouraged. But, having seen this trend develop, I’m more optimistic.’

However, it is clearly through their media offerings that the Springboks have observed a return towards favouring the attacking team. Springboks forwards coach Gary Gold, in an informal discussion with this site, agreed, citing his observations and analysis as a means of supporting this assertion.

The breakdown shifts into focus for this weekends match against the free-running Fijians. Stifling their attacking flow is imperative and Schalk Burger says this has been a focus in training.

‘They’re an expansive side so stopping them requires a good breakdown contest,’ he said. ‘The attacking sides have been given the advantage over the defensive sides, but it is also important to remember that each referee has their own style. Some are strict on rolling away, other on ensuring there’s daylight [before a defensive] contest and others are not. You have to adapt, its as simple as that. This will be the key for all teams.’

The Springboks were outplayed by Wales at the breakdown on Sunday in Wellington, with openside flank Sam Warburton the chief engineer in their downfall. Consequently the Springboks failed to build any telling pressure outside of the phases that preceded their two tries.

Fourie du Preez said he had appealed to referee Wayne Barnes to prevent Wales from flooding the ruck and compromising the recycle, without any discernible effect. He did, however, echo Burger’s sentiments that it was their responsibility to they read the referee accurately and quickly. ‘Over 80 minutes we were probably good for 15 of those,’ he said. ‘The breakdown had a lot to do with that.’

Asked to compare this group to the world champion side of 2007 Du Preez said: ‘We didn’t have as much time to prepare this time around. A couple of the guys are obviously older than they were then but we’re as confident as we were then.’

By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington

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