The Boks are on the up and it’s fantastic to see! What has really been pleasing to me is that we’re not being seduced into running from everywhere anymore. South Africa is again seeing that defence is the cornerstone of winning Test matches.
This has been coming for years. Like they say in France, “Voila!” I remember being in France and getting criticised for the Boks being too defensive, but we finished the 2007 Rugby World Cup with the leading try-scorer, the leading points-scorer and the trophy.
People say “that’s not how you play the game,” but the Boks are showing that’s exactly how you win.
South Africa understood that reality in 2007 and it looks like we’re starting to understand it again. Some of the other sides in the world don’t grasp it; they’ve been seduced by the perception that passes and offloads and sidesteps win matches. They don’t see the whole picture.
I’m watching the Pumas run from their in-goal while their scrum goes backwards. Argentina were renowned for the Bajada scrum, and their maul and pick-and-drive was historically among the best in the world. A few years ago, if you watched a club game between Hindu and San Isidro, generally every kid could pick and drive and every team could maul.
But on Saturday, the Pumas scrum and lineout against the All Blacks was almost the worst I’ve seen in Test level. It got to a point where they got a five-metre penalty and they didn’t choose to scrum – a few years ago, that would have been unthinkable in Argentina.
Meanwhile, for the second week in a row, a Bok victory was notable for the defensive effort, and now I’m hearing the Aussies and Kiwis say they need to kick more.
In rugby, you can keep the ball and run from your own try-line, but if you knock on 95 metres upfield, you get no points for that. It looks amazing, but you get no points.
That’s why we see a team with 14 men stop their opponents from scoring, and it’s why it’s possible to beat the Crusaders with 13 men in Christchurch.
There’s no reward for keeping the ball for 15 phases. Turning defence into attack is the spectacle these days. That kind of rugby is in our DNA, defence is how we’ve always played.
Tackling and defence are two different things. Some countries produce great one-on-one tacklers, but they’re poor in terms of defensive organisation. Other countries have the opposite problem.
South Africa produces great tacklers and great defenders and the Boks are hitting the nail on the head because not only are we gaining psychological victories by beating New Zealand and Australia, but the way we’re doing it is ringing alarm bells for the rest of the world.
We scored 36 points against the All Blacks without the ball, and we mustn’t allow ourselves to be hoodwinked again into thinking that we have to run it from everywhere because that’s not how you score 36 points against New Zealand.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of these readers because Zelím Nel has been talking about the trends of the game for a long time. He came over to Toyota Verblitz and did some analysis that highlighted what is happening in world rugby – whether you look at Super Rugby, Test rugby or Japanese rugby, the key indicators are exactly the same.
The reason is because the laws of the game are loaded in the defence’s favour. That is why you can have 60% possession and territory and still lose a match.
For example, if your opponents kick the ball out and you have the ball at the back of a maul from the ensuing lineout, the ref tells you to use the ball. This cues the defensive side. Then you get a scrum after the other team knocks on, you get the ball to the back of the scrum and the ref tells you to use it. Again, this helps the defence to get ready for when you play. And later you make a run, the ball becomes available at the ruck, and the ref tells the halfback to use it.
These are three instances where the lawmakers rush the attack so that the defence can have a crack at winning possession.
Defensively, South Africa have never been matched. Generally, people would say the Boks are known for aggressive and organised defence. Across all eras and all the way down to most schoolboy sides, we field teams with really good tacklers and defenders.
We’ve beaten the All Blacks, Wallabies, and England this year, all on the back of defence. The Boks were 24-0 against England, and 12-0 down against New Zealand and we tackled our way to victory. This doesn’t mean we haven’t played rugby.
The perception is that the Kiwis are all about attack, but the reality is that they are experts at turning defence and into tries. The Boks are starting to get good at doing the same thing, and that’s very encouraging.
Winger Aphiwe Dyantyi has scored six tries in eight Tests, and it’s not because we’re running from everywhere.