A lot can be taken from the PRO14 Final between Leinster and Munster in terms of assessing where South Africa will want to be conditioning-wise and how they will want to be playing by the time they face Northern Hemisphere rugby, writes James Dalton.
Yes we are the World Champions, but that was a while ago. After a couple of rounds of preparation games locally it is clear that while the quality is there, a lot can be learned from the Northern Hemisphere’s top sides.
Watching the Leinster versus Munster final, there were a few things that stood out for me. They were clinical at the breakdown, as Kenny Rogers would say, “know when to hold, know when to fold”. Players were never overcommitted at breakdown and similarly on the rush defence, where guys would come quickly off the mark for one or two paces but then hold so as to not overrun. Sometimes in South Africa, a brutal rush defence sees guys overrunning and getting beaten. The breakdown understanding of when to commit and when to line up defensively also saw the Irish sides penalised a lot less than what we’re currently seeing locally.
The pace that their forwards were running onto the ball is something that we need to be reminded of, as we’re often finding our receivers in a static position and the angles run by the players were refreshing to watch, as players often get sucked into running at the man, rather than into space, and are unable to create opportunities.
A positive we can take when likening styles is that neither Leinster nor Munster used their backline very much, recruiting their forwards consistently and in doing so hanging onto the ball. Their fitness appeared on another level and if we can maintain the same level of conditioning, using our forwards in the same way is something the Springboks and domestic South African sides will benefit from hugely.
Granted, I have been drawing comparisons from a PRO14 Final and South Africa’s preparation for the Rainbow cup, so my observations are not cause for concern but rather a pointer to where we want to be in the next couple of months.
With that being said, I must compliment Dobbo on going back to his strengths. The Stormers look defensively strong, settled at set piece and a lot fitter than they did at the beginning of our local tournaments. They are running exciting lines and creating opportunities and Damian Willemse at fullback has been a fantastic call as he has the time and width of the field to attack space, be illusive in his running and keep the ball alive for the players around him.
South Africa has the quality of player to still be contenders after over a year of no international rugby, we just need to remain conscious of the areas in which we can improve, as well as knowing the areas in which we are strong and hammering home on those.