Tank Lanning

Four key lessons

2016-05-05 08:00
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)

All of the Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes now have more points than any other side in Vodacom Super Rugby. Every attacking stat of 2016, bar one, is led by a Kiwi side. The five New Zealand franchises have scored more tries (167) than our six teams (156), and the ‘Canes put 50 past the Lions last weekend.

Yes, these pesky Kiwis are having a pretty damn awesome year, and are clearly Super Rugby's bench-setters. But this column is not about them...

It’s about the style of rugby that most of the SA sides are starting to play, and a wish for them to continue down that path, despite this season’s apparent setbacks.

The Sharks seem to be coming to terms with a few issues of their own, but the more ball-in-hand approach seen from the Lions, Bulls and Stormers must be applauded.

One has to dig a little deeper into the stats, but one can see that these three sides are definitely keeping the ball in hand more and trying to play a more entertaining brand of rugby.

With all players getting bigger, better, faster and more powerful through nutrition and conditioning, simply trying to overpower the opposition is just no longer an option.

But this evolution will take time, and our new young coaches deserve the patience needed to implement this game.

Perhaps 4 key lessons noted from the 10 rounds of Super Rugby thus far, though:

Everyone is a fetcher. The Lions were smoked at the breakdown by the Hurricanes not because their loose forwards are ordinary, but because the first 'Canes player to the breakdown not only made a good decision, but then implemented said call skilfully. Even if it meant Beauden Barrett cleaning out a ruck instead of taking the pop pass.

It’s about balance. The Highlanders have kicked the most this year, while the Crusaders (albeit with over 50 less) are 5th on that list. Ball in hand does not mean no kicking at all. It means kicking astutely, not always kicking from 9 and 10, and aiming for grass rather than the man aided by sucking the defence in before making that kick.

Having a strong scrum and lineout still counts. That final Stormers scrum cost them the game against the Waratahs. Using their third choice tighthead because of injury robbed the Lions of a key platform against the 'Canes. SA sides are first, second, fourth and fifth in lineouts stolen this year, while the Cheetahs rule the lineouts won on their own throw category. These two facets must remain core to the South African game.

Size does count - but perhaps not where everyone thinks, though! An infographic comparing the sizes of the SA, Aus and Kiwi players reveals that the tight five, loosies, halfbacks and centres are all evenly matched. But that the New Zealand teams are stocked with outside backs that dwarf some SA forwards. The Kiwis boast 21 that are over 100kgs and just 24 that are under 90kgs, while the SA sides have only 12 100kg monsters and by far the most (45) that are under 90kgs. 

Size out wide is not only about Nemani Nadolo scoring eye watering tries, though. It’s about sucking in defenders so those around them can thrive, and perhaps most importantly, being able to recycle the ball out in the tramlines - where you are least likely to find defenders, especially in today’s rush defence era.

So perhaps here in SA we should be thinking of selecting our big guys not only at 7, 12 and 13 (where we seemed to have size to spare), but also out wide at 11 and 14?

What we cannot do, though, is move away from this new direction the SA sides are moving in. Like in a match, though, we are going to need a little patience. All good things take time.

Tank Lanning is a former Western Province prop and vociferous tweeter from @frontrowgrunt.

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.

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