RYAN VREDE writes that Samoa’s stated intention to abandon structure will be terminal to their cause against a Springboks side who look to be grasping a newly-introduced defensive system.
Samoa have exhibited a far more structured approach than they are known for, and have looked most dangerous when they’ve earned the right to play expansively through patient multi-phase play. Notably, the Springboks have pointed to this trend as amplifying their threat.
However, it now appears the islanders are set to shelve this approach in favour of a more cavalier variant. Samoa midfielder and senior player Seilala Mapusua gave insight into the team’s thinking: ‘I think we need to go all out and really move the ball around and try and get as far away from structure rugby as possible.
‘We know how strong South Africa are. They are very clinical at the set piece and also at building pressure. They have a goalkicker who will slot it from anywhere. We need to break it up a bit I think.’
Surely any threat they could pose would come from replicating the tactical advances they’ve exhibited in the last three weeks. Indeed evidence of the success of a more pragmatic approach can be traced back to their upset 32-23 victory over Australia in June.
History reflects their traditional expansive approach has never been effective against the Springboks. In six Tests the average score has been 50-10 to the defending champions, who have always had the defensive structure and punch at the gainline and breakdown to blunt Samoa’s intentions. That hasn’t changed, and, with a patent progression in their understanding and execution of a newly-introduced defensive system, it would be tactically naive of Samoa to expect to prosper playing in the manner they intend to.
Defence coach Jacques Nienaber has worked from the blueprint that made the Stormers such a formidable unit, with gainline domination, high work-rate (with a focus on rejoining the defensive line quickly after making a tackle), pressure created by the defenders pushing up hard from the outside and discipline central to its success.
Openside flank Heinrich Brussow is also skilled at punishing isolated carriers, and with competent ruck exponents like Bismarck du Plessis and Schalk Burger in the mix, Samoa’s success will hinge on them bossing the tackle fight and nullifying those men. I have serious reservations about their aptitude in this regard and foresee a fruitful night for Morne Steyn, who is unequalled in accuracy from penalties in the tournament.
With the Samoans’ intentions made clear, the Springboks will have to ensure their first-time tackle accuracy is better than it has been. They have often relied on desperate scramble defence to negotiate threats. Remedying this deficiency will leave Samoa will with little hope of the victory they require to maintain hope of progressing to the quarter-final.
By Ryan Vrede, in Auckland.
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