Gary Gold admits that the breakdown battle will determine the outcome of Sunday’s quarter-final and that David Pocock is the Springboks’ biggest threat in this regard.
Throughout the week, the Bok players have spoken about accuracy at the point of contact. While the Boks have conceded relatively few penalties at the ruck, they’ve coughed up a lot of possession due to poor ball protection. Players like Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies have called for a stronger and more clinical effort ahead of the Test against the Wallabies, a team that’s had the edge over the Boks in the past six encounters.
Their five-from-six win record aside, the Wallabies have troubled the Boks at the breakdown in the Tri-Nations Tests played in 2010 and 2011. Pocock has started for the Wallabies in all six of those matches, and will be expected to cause the Boks similar problems in the coming clash at Wellington Regional Stadium.
On Friday morning in the Kiwi capital, the sun was out and the mercury was pushing a relatively impressive 14 degrees Celsius. Similar conditions are expected for the quarter-final this Sunday, and as Gold stated, this could have a big impact on the way the game is played.
Dry conditions will suit the Wallabies, as they have the backs, and indeed the forwards, to play the game at a high tempo. If the rain stays away, the job of Heinrich Brussow and the other Bok loose forwards will be more important than ever, as they will need to slow the Wallabies’ ruck recycle as much as possible to deny the Aussie backline momentum and space.
‘If you consider the weather, they could play a significant role this Sunday. The breakdown will probably be the defining factor, and the team that masters it, and adheres to the referee’s interpretations the best, will be in a great position to win this game,’ said Gold.
‘For [Brussow and Pocock] it’s such a fine line between being a genius and breaking the law. Their roles are so essential, not only in what they do, but also in their decision-making at that particular moment in time. If they get to the breakdown and the referee calls ruck, the one who reacts quickest, say by leaving the ball alone and counter-rucking, is going to have the greatest effect. They’re two significant forces this weekend and both teams are going to have to be on their toes when those two jackals come close to the breakdown.
‘They are unique individuals, they’re special rugby players. People seemed to think that the breakdown law changes [instated ahead of the 2010 season] would nullify opensiders, and it hasn’t really been the case. It’s just made the cream rise to the top a bit more.’
While the Wallabies have the wood on the Boks, they have dropped a match in the build-up to the quarter-finals. Ireland bested them on a wet night in Auckland, and on that occasion their forwards had no answer to the Emerald Green onslaught.
Notably, the Wallabies were without Pocock on that occasion. Gold said that their were lessons to be learned from that fixture, but conceded that having Pocock back in the mix amplifies the Wallabies’ threat.
‘Ireland were particularly good, some of their tactics were very interesting. Sean O’Brien caused a lot of problems for Australia at the contact point, because it was more a contact point that night than a breakdown.
‘Would Pocock have made a difference? Definitely. I’m not sure if he would have made a difference to the final outcome, it’s impossible for me to say that, but he possibly could have neutralised O’Brien. Australia miss him when he doesn’t play.’
While there’s been plenty of analysis and preparation around the breakdown, Gold said that the Wallabies will provide stiff opposition at the set-phase. Bok vice-captain Victor Matfield always speaks highly of the Wallabies’ lineout and how difficult it is to win this particular battle, but it’s at the scrum where the Aussies may surprise the Boks if they are not prepared.
The Wallabies have produced erratic performances at this set-piece over the last two seasons, but Gold said they would take nothing for granted ahead of this play-off match. The Bok forwards coach also said both teams will have to adapt to Bryce Lawrence’s scrum calls on the day.
‘I’m not sure they Wallabies have had problems with Bryce at scrum time or whether they’ve had problems with scrums at scrum time. But the issue is we’re going to have to exploit everything we can if we want to win this game.
‘They’re an outstanding team and not Tri-Nations champs for nothing. Every aspect of our game is going to have to be razor sharp. Our lineouts will need to be very efficient and our scrums will have to be sharp. I don’t think we did really well against Australia at the scrums during the Tri-Nations, so that in itself is a challenge.
‘It’s not about Bryce, it’s more about the fact that we haven’t performed well enough against their scrum and that’s an area we want to improve on.’
By Jon Cardinell, in Wellington