Ball in hand approach key

RICHARD FERGUSON makes an early call as to which approach will win the Cup this year.

Super Rugby started with more of a whimper than a bang, but is back nonetheless and we had two Super Rugby matches on the weekend where the Rebels and the Brumbies registered wins.

Having sat through what I expected to be pretty dull Australian derby encounters, I was pretty surprised at how the game flowed in the opening match between the Rebels and the Force. The Brumbies v Reds match was less entertaining, but the general speed of play was still considerably more entertaining than anything seen from our Australian counterparts during 2012.

As can be expected from opening week games, and we are bound to witness the same when the South African and New Zealand teams kick off this weekend, the games were full of penalties and unforced errors, but more noticeably, there was a shift in focus at the breakdown.

The new interpretations that referees had to abide by were tested by quality players like David Pocock, Liam Gill and Chris Alcock, seeing how far exactly they can go this season before being penalised. This made for entertaining viewing, but it seemed that the referees still lacked consistency in how the laws were enforced.

With the breakdown becoming increasingly fifty/fifty in terms of which team will come away with the ball, the tendency to give the ball to the opposition and make them play might become a norm this season.

As witnessed on Saturday morning, the Reds were brilliant on the defence, the Brumbies attacked for long periods without getting the necessary reward. Whether the Reds won the ball at the breakdown or whether they simply outsmarted them on defence, the Brumbies could not score from going 10+ phases. Instead, they scored from a team effort in the first half (where the Reds were on attack for a long period) and by way of an intercept in the second half.

It might be too early in the season to try and predict what a team needs to win the competition but it will be interesting to see which approach is followed by the South African teams, and where exactly the focus will be in terms of balancing a good defence with a good attacking mind set.

Personally, my call is that the team with the best defence will not necessarily walk away with the cup this year, but rather the team that can do the most with ball in hand and conceding the least amount of penalties in doing so.