Hi guys. After the loss to England I needed a hug, so I went to my wife and I just stood very very close to her for a while. Because apparently we do not need to use our arms anymore.
It did not work, and I did not feel better. But the more I thought about the loss, and the more I look at the footage of the game, the more I get a clearer picture of what happened. Yes, the ref made a mistake with Farrell’s shoulder charge but that did not cost us the game. The many crucial lost lineouts for instance had a much bigger say in our loss.
But there was another issue that jump out for me that I want to talk about today, and that is a problem with the Bok backline attack.
One way of looking at backline attack in rugby is like this: first we must create good conditions for attack, then we must be able to exploit those conditions, and finally we must have the ability to finish.
In terms of players, this is the balance that any backline must have. You must have guys who can play direct and physical to tie up the opposition and manipulate the defence. Then you must have guys with the vision and ability to magnify the cracks that have appeared. And finally you must have finishers with the speed and footwork to close the deal.
If we get this blend wrong then we will see a malfunctioning backline, and this is something the Boks suffered from on Saturday. Let us take a look…
Above we see the first part of the equation. Handre will take the ball up powerfully and make a strong break up the middle. Time and again the Bok forwards and strike runners like De Allende, Pollard and Kriel would make a “breach” in the England lines like this.
It immediately put the home team on the back foot, disorganise the defence, and take away their linespeed. De Allende in particularly severely disrupt the England defence and put the Boks in the pound seat. Boks had no problem creating good conditions for attack.
This is the next phase, and we see part of the problem I am talking about. Handre was tackled, Van Zyl cleared the ball and passed to Jesse at first receiver. We can see Jesse have a chance to put Willemse into a hole to his left, but instead he will carry again and the moment will be lost.
If Willemse and Dyantyi was brought into play who knows what could have happened? Or maybe Jesse could have put in a grubber? But none of this happened because the wrong type of player was brought onto the ball at the wrong time.
Jesse is not a “exploiter” in the same way that Willie for instance is. This is a situation where Willie will normally take charge and magic will happen.
Many times in the match we see good situations like this wasted because the Boks did not have a guy to exploit the opportunities they created. My feeling is that Willemse himself must take charge in a situation like above, come in at first receiver, and bring that balance into the backline play.
Here is another example of the Boks doing everything right to create the conditions for attack but then unable to exploit it. De Allende make a monster carry up the middle and then the ball come out to Pieter-Steph at first receiver.
He will carry again and the opportunity down the left is lost, and again we can say that Willemse should have taken charge. Either he must take that position at first receiver, or he must be in a position where he can call for the ball from Pieter-Steph and then try to release Kriel and Dyantyi down the left.
It is the way the Boks organise themself sometimes in play that really hurt them in this match.
Another problem is that sometimes the players who is meant to be able to exploit opportunities can not do it. Above we see a very subtle but crucial example of this.
Handre is releasing Damian down the right, but he is passing too early. We can see the 8th man Wilson is already simply shifting and closing Damian’s space. A true “exploiter” like Willie will first fix the England defender before releasing Damian and Nkosi down the left.
I do not want to hammer Handre too much because he have value in other ways, but above we see another example where he (unbelievably) will carry instead of simply trying to put Duane into that wonderful gap. We can see that May is occupied by Nkosi who is out of frame, so the try is on.
Above we see another example of a wasted opportunity. I am a huge fan of Damian, but while he was one of the top Springboks in term of creating the conditions for attack, he was poor in being able to exploit it. He have many options to his right, but instead he will cut inside and carry again.
Again, if Willie or a player like Willemse had inserted himself at this crucial moment we will have see a much more positive outcome. We need that balance!
What we are saying is that sometimes the wrong players was on the ball at crucial times, and sometimes players who is meant to be able to dictate could not do it. This is two very different problem with two very different solutions.
But now I want to draw your attention to the brief spell that Elton Jantjies had at the end.
Above we see Elton get the ball with a clear opportunity to his left. Elton may not be as physical as Handre, but he is one the best “exploiters” in South African rugby. As he get the ball we can see him sum up the situation.
I am sure you agree by now how many times the Boks mess up this kind of opportunities, but let us see what Elton will do…
This is more like it. Elton will firstly wait until the last possible moment to make his play, and secondly he will then take the right decision by passing to the correct runner. He will draw the defence, put Damian into a beautiful open lane and a huge gain is made.
I only mention this because it is a example of how we can bring balance to the Springbok attack. If a guy like Willie is not playing, then perhaps we must consider someone like Elton at 10 to pull the strings that need pulling.
Or we must force a bigger role on Willemse to take charge at crucial moments. Whatever the answer, we must sort it out quickly because I think this cost us more than anything else this weekend against England.
The good news is that we doing all the right things to create opportunities, and we have some wonderful finishers, we just need players who can build a bridge between them!
DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans