RYAN VREDE writes that defence, not attack, should be the national obsession.
So much has been said about the Springboks’ attack, many lamenting the impotency thereof up until Saturday when they ran in five tries against Australia at Loftus. However, that attacking performance was rooted in brutal, accurate and disciplined defence that pressured the Wallabies into taking risks, on which the Springboks capitalised.
With defences of elite teams so sophisticated in the modern game, turnovers and penalties forced through a strong tackle fight and breakdown contest is a primary source of points. The Springboks’ potency in these facets of play is highly encouraging.
They had struggled in this regard against Argentina and when facing Australia in Perth, with those opponents consistently bossing the gainline and controlling the flow and tempo of their attacks. The Springboks were regularly made to defend with an unset line, which complicated their task.
There was, however, a dramatic improvement against the All Blacks in Dunedin and against the Wallabies in Pretoria at the weekend. The Blacks looked decidedly ordinary in the face of a highly impressive defensive effort. Both their tries stemmed from individual errors – the first a poorly aimed kick that presented a broken field opportunity and the second through poor defensive positioning from prop Dean Greyling. Australia’s lone try at Loftus came when the Springboks had already sealed the result. They had never seriously threatened the whitewash prior to that.
There are a handful of reasons for the Springboks’ rise. Firstly, the team has had time to learn and understand defence coach John McFarland’s approach. Continuity in selection has aided their cause here as well. There is a growing cohesiveness about every aspect of their defence.
Furthermore, Francois Louw’s inclusion in the starting line-up has been significant. Coach Heyneke Meyer has previously stressed that he believes in the value an opensider brings, but wouldn’t include a specialist whose prowess didn’t extend to effective ball carrying. Louw fits that bill, but his ability to steal or slow the recycle remains his main asset. Eighthman Duane Vermeulen has made important contributions as well, particularly at Loftus. The Springboks’ threat in this regard will be amplified when hooker Bismarck du Plessis recovers from injury.
I understand the importance of the Springboks’ attack improving, but disciplined, pressure defence is what will create the opportunities, often against a scattered line, against the best teams in the game. For this reason I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen from the Springboks in their last two Tests. Defence must be the bedrock upon which they mount their challenge in the coming years.