Johannesburg - The structures set up by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) in recent times earned some high praise this weekend, with Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett waxing lyrical about the strides forwards that SA Rugby has made as a whole.
According to the supersport.com website, Hammett, whose side had just been demolished 48-14 by the Bulls, was clearly impressed by the defence of the Bulls, but noted that he had seen a significant improvement across the board of all the South African teams since he had become coach of the Wellington side.
Hammett went as far as calling it “the best defensive systems in the competition” and said his side had little option but to try and counter South African teams with tempo. When it worked, it worked, but the risk was that it could come horribly unstuck against an organised defence, as it did at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
While there has been significant advances in the way the Super Rugby franchises have defended over the past few years’, Hammett’s observations are interesting, especially in the light of Rassie Erasmus’s mobile coaching unit and the good work done by the Springbok assistant coaches, who have travelled across the country to work with the various franchises.
In particular, Bok defence coach John McFarland’s work has paid off, and the tweaks also made by teams such as the Toyota Cheetahs have been excellent, while the Stormers still have the best defensive systems in the country.
“South African teams at the moment have probably got the best defensive systems at the moment,” Hammett said.
“I don’t always think they have the best defensive players - one on one - but their systems are very very good. Now you see them populated across the board and they are hard to break down. They do offer certain opportunities at certain places but I think it suits South African teams rather than going hard, to muscle up and not give a lot of gaps. The only way you can stop that is to play tempo, to play quickly and use turnover ball quickly at the back. It can be broken down, but it is a big positive about South African rugby at the moment.”
Hammett added that New Zealand teams needed to go back to school to learn how to stop the rolling maul, a particular tactic that is both popular and used well by South Africans at the moment. While he wouldn’t advocate getting rid of it, he believes Kiwi teams need to adapt.
“South Africans have mastered it. Their size assists with that as well. If we had it our way, we’d say let’s get rid of it, but the fact is, it is part of the game. It has been part of the game for a long time. We just need to get better at learning how to stop that.
I think the big issue is that it has made the game boring, but I don’t think the game is boring because of it,” he added.
The Hurricanes coach conceded that South Africa had become a much tougher place to tour for overseas teams than in the past and that that was massively positive for the local game.
“What we are seeing is a wee bit like New Zealand. You don’t come out here now and have an easy team to play. The Africans come to New Zealand and it's tough. When I was playing you could look at the schedule and there were a couple of teams that were guaranteed five points. You don’t have that now and that’s a credit to the organisations and how they are driving that management,” Hammett explained.
The Hurricanes will finish their short visit to the country against the Cheetahs this Friday in Bloemfontein.