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Boks must boss breakdown

2015-10-16 23:36

For all intents and purposes, I’m not a fan of the Rugby World Cup model. I firmly believe it was installed as a competition in order to create hype and generate revenue. However, the refreshing feature of the 2015 Rugby World Cup was the competitiveness of the minnows. The tier-two nations really came to the party during the pool stages and although they all failed to qualify for the quarter-finals, they contributed to this being the best World Cup yet.

South Africa tackle Wales in the first quarter-final at Twickenham on Saturday. The Springboks have opted for consistency in selection, with 22-year-old lock Lood de Jager continuing his burgeoning partnership with Eben Etzebeth. Victor Matfield made the right call in ruling himself out of contention for this Test. Even at the peak of his powers, Matfield could not match the level of physicality and energy the new generation lock pairing offer.

The Springboks are playing well at present because their two young locks – the diesel engine of the team – are firing on all cylinders, running hard and creating momentum. A case in point, De Jager has won two man of the match awards off the back off an impressive set of statistics. According to the Vodacom Rugby App, he has made 50 tackles, 36 ball carries, has won 20 lineouts on his own throw and has stolen two. If I was in Heyneke Meyer’s position, I would make use of Matfield as a water boy/on-field coach to pass messages onto the men out in the middle, help keep his teammates calm and to assist in organising the line-out.

Wales boast a well-functioning line-out underlined by the fact that they have won the most line-outs to date in the tournament on their own thrown – 60. However, I believe the match is primarily going to be won at the breakdown.  South Africa have been bettered by Wales in terms of turnovers won – 25-37 – during the pool stages of the competition, and if the former is to gain ascendancy on Saturday they have to commit more numbers to the tackle contest. When the Springboks last played and lost to Wales at the Millennium Stadium in 2014, it was a long day at the office for the visitors because they were guilty of only sending two players to each ruck. In stark contrast, Wales flooded that area with at least four men.

For South Africa to come away with the spoils, the must hit it close, hard and ensure they send at least four players to each breakdown. If South Africa create momentum, owing to the size, physicality and the brutal strength their players possess, they should be able to wear Wales down and win at a canter. However, if the Springboks play the one-off runner, with two cleaners at the breakdown, Wales are going to be more than up to the challenge.

In order to break down a defence – Wales have only conceded two tries in four matches – you need to get it on the back foot. I would try to hit really hard and gain momentum with the pick-and-go tactic. When the Springboks generate momentum, the most important thing is for Fourie du Preez to take the ball and run in order to keep the Welsh defensive line honest. As soon as the veteran scrumhalf does that, the Welsh can’t come off the line hard. South Africa’s bruising ball-carriers should run Wales ragged and thus create space outwide.

A trend I have picked up at this World Cup is that if a team only passes to the flyhalf, defences are so structured that they merely shift onto the ten. And because flankers are so fast nowadays, they catch you on the inside. When the Springboks have the momentum on attack and Handré Pollard hits the line hard and flat, a quick pass to him to shift that channel will work brilliantly. However, if we pass to ten and he is solely a distributor, then the Dragons will handle the Springboks because the former’s defence will be too structured.

Moreover, South Africa must employ an intelligent tactical kicking game. Aimless kicking is a recipe for disaster and could cost teams the World Cup. For argument’s sake, up-and-unders in the middle of the field are futile because all the tops teams have players who boast strong aerial prowess. As such, the willy-nilly box kick is ineffective. To gain the upper-hand, the men in green and gold must make use of raking ground kicks i.e. grubbers in order to push Wales into the corners and onto the back foot. I’m predicting a 26-13 win for the Springboks on Saturday and a semi-final line-up consisting of South Africa, France, Australia and Ireland.

Le Roux represented South Africa in 54 Tests, from 1994 until 2002, and played at the 1999 Rugby World Cup. He featured in six RWC matches and enjoyed an 83 percent win record.

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