RYAN VREDE looks at where, statistically, the Springboks’ strengths and weaknesses lie, and also runs the rule over Australia ahead of their World Cup quarter-final in Wellington.
I’ve written before that their statistics on attack are affected positively (and therefore not completely reflective of their standing) by the Springboks having whipped minnows Namibia and Fiji. They struggled for large periods against Wales and Samoa, particularly but not exclusively on attack, and Australia would have done a close examination of their deficiencies.
The Springboks do, however, lead the tournament in a number of important areas, most notably in territory (19.9 minutes on average) and time spent in the opposition’s 22m (6.5 minutes on average). They are also the top-ranked team for tackles broken in the opposition’s 22m, with 10.5 per Test.
They have, however, not capitalised fully on that dominance. This is due largely to their inability to protect the ball on the ground (3rd highest for breakdown turnovers in the opposition’s 22m) and fundamental handling errors in the red zone (2nd highest with 2.5). They lead the tournament for knock-ons, averaging 7.5 per match. The Wallabies are mostly average in the aforementioned areas.
The Springboks’ potency has been amplified by their defensive discipline. They average the lowest penalty count per match in the tournament, and this is an encouraging sign ahead of Sunday’s clash at the Cake Tin. Australia are placed eighth in this regard, with the bulk of their penalties being conceded at the scrum. Referee Bryce Lawrence has been particularly harsh in this facet of play. Indeed has nailed the Wallabies in the matches they participated in with him officiating. We’ll get focus on Lawrence more closely shortly.
On attack, Australia play through less phases than the Springboks, and they are expected to continue this trend, getting the ball to their back division as early as possible. The options taken by their flyhalves don’t differ greatly, with the Wallabies’ pivots running and kicking as much as the Springboks’ have, although the former have passed significantly more. The kicks, of course, differ greatly in their nature, with Morne Steyn being directed to punt up-and-unders when in his own half. Quade Cooper is more likely to nudge through grubbers and chips or attempt cross-kicks.
The Springboks will look to pressure the kick receiver and force penalties, which will be their main means of points accumulation. If Steyn can build a lead via his boot, the Springboks’ belief will grow. If the Wallabies deny them, the defending champions have problems. They were largely non-threatening with their ball-in-hand attack against Wales and Samoa, and it is difficult to see them scoring tries against the tournament’s second best defensive unit (only nine missed tackles on average) given the lack of innovation they have exhibited.
How they fare in repelling the Wallabies will also be key to their success. Only one team has missed more tackles than the Springboks’ 28 per match. The majority of those have, however, come in the opposition’s half. This should be little comfort against a side adept at scoring from long-range as the Wallabies are.
Lawrence’s performance will shape the contest, and the Springboks will be encouraged by the fact that, in the three Wallaby matches he has overseen, the penalty count has been 33-18 in favour of the opposition. Lawrence awarded twice as many penalties to the Springboks when the side’s met in the Tri-Nations Test in Durban in August (12-6). He is most likely to penalise for scrum infringements, while he is lenient at ruck time, which should make for an almighty breakdown tussle.
The breakdown is where Ireland stifled Australia in the pool phases and it is imperative that the Springboks dilute the potency of Will Genia, Cooper and co by replicating that effort. If they manage this, their task will be significantly less daunting.
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.