Four weeks into our local competition, we need to take stock of where we’re at, and where we need to improve in order for our World Champion Springboks to remain as such next year, writes James Dalton.
Yes we are underdone, and a couple of months behind the rest of the rugby world, but we need to accept this and assess where we’re at from a like for like perspective. We are four weeks into our domestic competition and when one looks to the rugby on display in New Zealand four weeks into their domestic competition, it is day and night. Not because we are not as good, but because there are structural elements to our game that are being overlooked.
For me the Bulls, under Jake White’s guidance, have been the only South African team so far this year to get it right. I’ve been critical of Jake, but I have to give him credit for empowering his coaching staff and going back to basics, showing the value of clinical, old school rugby. The Bulls, especially against the Stormers this past weekend, made use of their dominance in possession, and showed that you need to the ball to play rugby. The Stormers on the other hand, were favoured with territory yet were hammered by five tries. This is indicative of a problem that spans across South African rugby at the moment, which is aimless kicking and most often kicking the ball right down the middle. By doing this, you give the opposition a huge return angle for the kick, where they can either kick it into touch or boot it back down against an advancing defence. We need to be kicking effectively and for territory, and it was a relief to see the Bulls implementing effective possession and territory.
Another cause for concern is the structuring of our attack, which is a two-fold problem that begins with the speed of clean-out and service at the ruck, and spreads to an inability to create width and keep the ball alive. We seem to have forgotten the basic rule of blowing over the ruck quickly. An inability to do so creates turnovers or sees the carrier concede a penalty. This also translates to slow service from the scrumhalves, who haven’t been as quick as they should be anyway. In turn, the pods of forwards that are set up are getting the ball static, and are running at a realigned defence, where they should be running at a retreating defence if they got quick service.
These pods of forwards are also being exhausted and are not able to create width, because of an inclination to keep playing to one, side back and forth across the field. The forwards need to get up and fold, but not always towards the ball, because that then eliminates the blindside option – which the All Blacks showed the value of against Australia by hitting the blindside with their hooker, their loosies and their blindside wing against the run of play and against a fractured defence. Again, I thought the Bulls on Saturday were good in this department, shifting the point of contact, skipping players and being more dynamic on attack, which allowed them to keep the ball alive. I’ve always said, keeping the ball alive is the key to winning games, because as soon as that ball goes to ground you create an opportunity for the defence not only to restructure but to contest for possession of the ball.
What has been a positive, is the resurgence of a strong left and right shoulder in the scrum, which saved the Stormers against the Pumas. However, they weren’t able to adapt when the Bulls nullified their scrum, but this points to more issues that exist within the Stormers setup currently.
There is a lot we are getting right, especially when you look to Jake’s old school approach at the Bulls and the general success of our teams at the set piece, but we need to iron out the basics of quick cleaning at the ruck and speedy service from it, creating opportunities left and right of the point of contact, kicking with purpose and for territory and most importantly keeping the ball alive!