Bok tactics questioned

2011-08-09 09:43

Gary Boshoff

On Saturday the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup encounter between the Wallabies and All Blacks was an intriguing affair for more than one reason. 

Firstly because of the distinctly different attacking game plans of the two teams and secondly to see whether the All Blacks’ superior experience, both in terms of average age and Test caps would give them any clear advantage over the inventive Aussies, if at all.

On the first aspect, namely, the distinctly different attack strategies, it has always been a contentious debating point on whether coaches should decide on a game plan and coach their players rigidly to implement it, or whether coaches should first avail themselves of the talent in their squad and then formulate a game plan that fit the strengths of his players. 

Depending on the success with these approaches we then categorize coaches as average, good and excellent. Robbie Deans has for years been recognized as one of the top coaches in world rugby and this hasn’t change, well not yet. 

In fact, despite his reputation as the most successful Super Rugby coach he has not been able to achieve the same level of success with the Wallabies.

Comparing the Wallabies game strategy with that of the All Blacks one finds two very distinct approaches. The recent success of the Reds in Super Rugby has in a way forced Deans’ hand in the direction of the flat, fast and high risk attacking game for the wallabies.  In fact, the inclusion of key Reds players in pivotal decision-making positions leaves him with very little choice but to go that route. 

At the centre of his plan is the innovative but highly erratic Quade Cooper, a player so versatile and full of ideas that it can be more counter-productive than beneficial at times. Saturday was a case in point. 

The flat game did not work, mostly because the All Blacks’ technical team worked out a counter to Cooper and Genia which was most effective on the day – I believe this is where the 2011 RWC is going to be won: the ability of technical analysts to unravel opposition game strategies and attacking ploys and then developing counters to neutralize them. 

The team with the best technical personnel and an understanding of the game and its subtle nuances is the team that is going to win the cup.

It was clear from their approach in defence that Graham Henry’s technical team did their homework very well, in fact, it was so obvious that they focused on one thing and that was to cut space and time with ball in hand, of the Wallabies’ decision-makers, Genia and Cooper. 

This was primarily the job of Reid and Carter by shooting up at Cooper both from static and second phase plays. However, this was only half the tactic. 

The second part was to get defenders to loop or fan wide across the field whenever Cooper went for the fast, flat ball pass.  This required defensive discipline and concentration of a high standard which the very experienced All Blacks consistently delivered, except for the blindside break late in the first half which gave Digby Ioane his try. 

Which brings me to the aspect of experience: The All Blacks fielded over 750 Test caps while the Wallabies had fewer than 400, a huge difference. 

The value of this came out clearly in the way the All Blacks manage to stay calm when under siege in their own 22m as well as turning key line-breaks and turnovers into points. 

Experience and match temperament has a whole lot to do with success at the highest level and the All Blacks have lots of that.  Selection choices and established combinations also played a vital role. 

The welcome return to form of Piri Weepu, the seasoned Smith/Nonu midfield partnership and the highly successful loose trio in McCaw, Read and Kaino, all made for a good day at the office for Graham Henry.

The present Springbok squad has over 800 Test caps and an average age in the late 20’s as well. In fact, based on the fact that some of these players have won the RWC before and has that added experience, edge over the New Zealanders, it should put them mentally ahead of the competition – that is if the age and experience argument holds true.

However, I would content that the one factor where there is a question-mark over the Springboks is whether we have the technical back-up team to out-maneuver or outwit those of our opponents.

Is Rassie Erasmus now “in charge” of technical analysis or is he merely an advisor to the coach?  What is Dick Muir and Gary Golds’ role function when it comes to deciding on game tactics? How exactly will all of them be working together to ensure that the players appreciate and grasp what they have to do to unlock the defenses and shut down the attacking plays of our opponents?

Notwithstanding all of the above, in the final analysis it will still boil down to how these tactics, counter measures, attacking and defensive ploys are executed by the players on the field on the day!

We will certainly get a glimpse of their (coach, technical team, players) effectiveness in Durban and Port Elizabeth over the next two weeks.

Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player and current Afrikaans rugby commentator on SuperSport.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


  • transkeidave - 2011-08-09 10:05

    good article gary and the truth be told we are streets behind when it comes to rugby smarts--no doubt we have a huge talent pool but too many survivng on past reputations--time has come to develope the new era and distinctive style that will allow us to compete on a more consistent basis--skills development the key

  • Carl Muller - 2011-08-09 10:10

    The have no strategy. When you have a strategy the opposition will not know what you will do next and then you can pounce on them. The most of tries are scored using the wings. Our wings only get the ball when they actively go in and take it... Secondly they keep on making the same mistakes. Don't they watch the previous game to see where they can improve? If they keep on like this I cannot see how they will win with our present captain and coach.

      Eduardoo - 2011-08-10 13:50

      We do still have a plan, it's just the same high kick & chase plan we had in 2009, only difference being, back then we had a wing competing for the ball in the air & at least 2 or 3 players ready to pounce on a loose ball, also if the opposition did manage to hang on to it we had a man that goes by the name of Heinrich Brussouw who simply took it from them in the rucks. Morne Steyn's kicking out of hand is not as good as it was then, Fourie du Preez also played a big part in the game plan and he's been out for a while. So we do have a plan, just unfortunate that it doesn't suit the teams we're picking.

  • Bill - 2011-08-09 10:27

    This sentence describes everything that is wrong with the Boks and sums up the fact that we must stop blaming the coach for the losses."Notwithstanding all of the above, in the final analysis it will still boil down to how these tactics, counter measures, attacking and defensive ploys are EXECUTED BY THE PLAYERS ON THE FIELD ON THE DAY!" Good article Gary

      realist - 2011-08-09 16:48

      The coach is clueless, Bill. This from an experienced rugby coach. Dream on.

      Charles - 2011-08-10 09:41

      'In the final analysis it boils down to how these tactics, counter measures, attacking and defensive ploys are executed by the players' The problem is Bill that the coach is responsible for tactics etc and this is not evident on the field. Players are running around like headless chooks because they have no plan!

  • StaalBurgher - 2011-08-09 10:39

    Wow... an article that does not somehow berate white people or otherwise extols the virtues or desirability of racist BEE policies. Well done, Gary!

      Jason - 2011-08-09 10:46

      Refreshing change

      will294 - 2011-08-09 11:54

      Yes - but regrettably it is BEE policies that have led to the demise of the Springbok reputation !

      StaalBurgher - 2011-08-09 12:05

      @will294, that is true but let us allow Gary to take baby steps. Understanding root causes might be a bit much for him right now.

  • ZumaGabe - 2011-08-09 11:24

    With the 3 stooges in charge of the BAFOKKE, no hope ! piet helium and laurel and hardy is really a circus show that should not be let loose in pro rugby

  • Ya Beauty! - 2011-08-09 11:28

    Gary good article, this is a very smart Bok team but underrated unfortunately. They have won everything there is to wim and beating what was one of the best Lions was no mean feet. Secondly to beat New Zealand at home more than once is a major boost come the world cup. Deans is overrated, everyone in Oz knows that Mckenzie should be the coach, guy has a 49% win ratio for a team thats second in the world is just not good enough. Have more faith in the Boks don't forget the 40 odd nill against the wallabies in Brisbane, i was there watching that game and everyone thought it was the end of the world only for the Boks to win the World cup....

  • Serias - 2011-08-09 12:43

    We all know very well that the smartest coaches are not in charge of the team. Heyneke and Rassie MUST simply be involved as they have the "grey matter" to analyze and plan. What the hell DMuir and GGold have done, I don't know, but the flyhalf continues to kick downfield, allowing for the opposition to counter attack. Yet, after the opposition scores, the flyhalf simply kicks the ball downfield again. EISH!!!!!!

  • mike881 - 2011-08-09 12:52

    Nothing more fustrating than watching the Boks persevering with the same tactics / gameplan throughout the whole game when already within the first 20 minutes of the game it is clearly not working ie Ruaan & co kicking almost every ball aimlessly away or the predictable crash ball players who do not pass, instead run straight at the opposition who then turnover the ball. Clearly the "brains trust" have not done their homework on the opponents or are to stubborn/stupid to change tactics during the game. Having said that I still feel we have world class players, who if coached and trained correctly can and will beat any team in the world on any given day. Go Bokke

  • saliem - 2011-08-09 13:01

    The simple truth is that the current AB team has several gifted players who would walk into any world side at the moment. On the other hand, several Bokke are in the twilight of their careers and clearly no longer have the sharpness or speed required for the modern game. Furthermore, would de Villiers be able to get a top coaching position anywhere outside of this country? If you were a coach, which side would you rather be coaching?

  • AJ - 2011-08-09 13:32

    Bok tactics? 1) stop kicking the ball to teams who love to counter attack, because a) you play to their strengths and b) you don't even make them work for it. 2) This superior South African forward strength is a myth, we are no better nor worse than any of our competitors. It is for that reason we deploy 15 players on the field, so use them. If you cannot defend nor attack for at least 8 phases without either conceding a penalty or conceding the ball, then there is no way you'll get anywhere near the trophy. 3) Taking the 3 points on offer against other leading teams is just letting them off the hook (as they know we'll return the favour) and also telegraphing the fact we don't back ourselves to create tries from open play.

  • Greegs - 2011-08-09 14:37

    Good article Gary! What exactly does Muir and Gold contribute? What is their win/loss ratio? It's NB to get the right guys involved from the outset and its clear these guys ARE NOT! They'll get sacked after the RWC and then what? I don't like PDW as a coach either, he also contributes nothing! We need some young talent and a good strategy to start winning again!

  • fullmoon - 2011-08-09 14:42

    so basically, what you said Gary, is that the AB's used a rush where have I heard that before?

  • BiggestBull - 2011-08-09 16:22

    Hi everyone, Let's show our support for Pierre Spies by clicking the Like button below this comment. Thanks!

      Richard - 2011-08-10 05:15


  • AgPseDaddy - 2011-08-09 18:21

    I am sorry to say but after Russie fall from rugby due to his addiction he has become a 'has been' The two assistant stooges have and always will be useless and just in for the money. Then that leaves only one man of color who is an ANC puppet and knows less about rugby than the ANC knows about running country. The fool at the top of SARA should also get a mouth full but the less said the better. Enough said!! I hope NZ are the cup winners as they deserve it this time round

  • Frans Smith - 2011-08-09 18:23

    every test involves technical analysis which contributes to game plan - what is new? how about talking about current selection and current form? i.e. if the ab's still selected out of form or players to old and retired (i.e. carl hayman, greg somerville, doug howlett, byron kelleher, anton olivier) ..we would stand a better chance. But they are not that stupid - you earn your all black jersey only if you are the best in that position (captain or no captain). i think we have three problems that will cost us this world cup; 1) our coach has no idea, 2) some players are to old or are totally out of form (i.e.john smit) and we have not "blooded" any replacements properly, 3) we play too conservative rugby. If we dont get at least 7 penalties in our favour, we wont stand a chance, becuase we wont be able to outscore most top sides on tries..

  • StirMonger - 2011-08-09 18:46

    Untill they get that silly flower off their chests they will always be chokers [sic]

      Boeta Nev - 2011-08-09 19:18

      Shame and here I thought we are the ones stuck in the past.

  • Karoobloed - 2011-08-09 20:38

    Gary, totally agreed. I think you are the best rugby columnist on News24. Many contributors on News24 miss the glaring fact that you have exhibited the generosity of spirit to end up making a constructive contribution in a system that previously discriminated against you. And in Afrikaans! You are an example to all of us. I respect you a lot. I think a coaching trio of Nick Mallett, Allister Coetzee and Eddie Jones would have been the ideal team to take us into RWC 2011 - too late now of course. We have fallen way behind on gameplan, vision and strategy.

  • slg - 2011-08-09 23:12

    I'm glad you're seeing this now Gary. No offense. It's been clear since day one. What have any of Peter De Villiers, Gary Gold or Dick Muir won at the highest level? Nothing. Why are we appointing people who don't know how to win? How can we expect to win having done this? It makes no sense. It's dumb actually.

      Karoobloed - 2011-08-09 23:56

      The problem runs deeper than just the coaching team - they did not appoint themselves. There is also the selectors who seem to escape criticism. Ultimately the responsibility for our Rugby mess resides with SARU.

      slg - 2011-08-10 00:00

      I agree, SARU has the ultimate responsibility, particularly Regan who cast the deciding vote to appoint Pieter. Regarding the selectors, I believe their function is merely advisory to the Head Coach. The Head Coach makes the decisions.

  • Hannes Perth - 2011-08-10 02:46

    Gary. You missed the most important aspect of the All Blacks' defense and that is that the gave the Wallabies slow ball. McCaw was absolutely brilliant. The Wallabies may argue that the "gate" was very big as the replays show that he mostly joined the rug from a 90 degree angle. McCaw was penalised twice for this infringement but got away with it for most of the game. Good on him. The Wallabies had most of the possession and terrority. The Wallabies' tactical mistake was to go wide too early with poor quality ball. The Wallabies will need to make a couple of changes to get more bulk around the fringes to get accross the advantage line against the All Blacks (Palota Nau, Radike Samo and Sharpe) to upset the defense and get go forward ball to unleach their backline. As Deans said in the Aussies papers; we did not first "earn" the right to go wide and the execution of the game plan was poor. I think the Wallabies have the game to beat the All Blacks, do they have the temparament to execute? Good to see the All Blacks firm as favourites ahead of the World Cup - worst thing that could happen is to see them loose...

  • hums - 2011-08-10 05:59

    great article, best analyitical rugby article I've read in a long time. In my mind there is no doubt that we have the players to be the best side and the experience is obviously there. Combinations are key now going into the world cup and just hope the coaches have made their minds up with this and will let the team gel and settle in the next month. We all know that rugby world cup finals are not free-flowing games and this will always give us a chance in a couple months time.

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