Give Bok defence time to rise

Oom Rugby

“Every side has an Achilles heel and for this team it is in its wide defence. All teams get a little bit narrow sometimes when they are stressed, but they can’t afford to keep conceding three or four tries a game.”

This will be a familiar quote to Springbok fans after a up and down 2018 season. Many times the Boks was exposed out wide and it often cost us at crucial times.  But the surprise is that this is not a quote about the Springboks, it is a quote about Andy Farrell and the Ireland defence.

You see the Irish walked the same path the Boks is walking now. Under Farrell, Ireland became much more aggressive on defence, and like the Boks it took a while for the players to adapt. I think we can agree that it is paying off for them?

So today I want to explain some of the things that the Boks is trying to do, and why we must be patient. We do not stand behind someone while they baking a cake and tell them every 5 minutes it don’t taste nice.

Above we almost see the whole Bok defence system in one picture. Firstly we see a “triangle rush” in the inside channel. Pieter-Steph is at the tip of a spear of three players who come up fast to kill the Welsh attempt at a gainline carry.

Like many teams, the Welsh will rumble here in a three-man pod, so the Boks must be compact to counter it and aggressive to try stop the carry early. Marx and the third man must make a read to either assist in the tackle, cover for a tip pass, or go for a poach if contact is dominant.

The second thing we notice is that the openside wing Aphiwe is up in the line and relatively narrow. To be fair the Boks is close to their own tryline and most teams will have men up in this kind of situation. But regardless, this is a good picture to show what I want to describe.

In the “wings up” defence that the Boks uses, the wing is almost like the new outside centre. He is joining the line earlier than he used to (wings used to sit back for longer) and he is joining narrower. So he is often making many of the decisions that the outside centre use to make. Depending on how play develops he must decide if he is going to come up, or be more passive and push out.

The third thing to notice is that the Boks only has two men in the backfield – Le Roux the fullback and Kolbe the blindside wing. Again the Boks is close to their own tryline so this is normal, but the difference is that they do this everywhere else on the field as well. The old way was to have a “back three” but today we only have a back two. We want our openside wing up in defence, so we pay the price by having one less guy at the back. Some people call this a “13-2” defence split.

Above we see the system working as it should. The Welsh is going wide down the left but Kolbe, who was up in the line, saw the opportunity to shoot aggressively and hit North deep, catching him ball and all. It is for pictures like the above that the Boks is using the system in the first place. The presence of a wing in the line give you a extra man, and with the extra man you can be more aggressive.

What is also important to see is the role of the cover defence. They the insurance policy if the tackle is missed. This is also a important note for people who complain that the Boks concede too much width on defence, because often it is fool’s width. After the cover defence make the tackle, the gain by the opposition is usually nominal. And it is a small price to pay for the chance to be aggressive.

So why is defences starting to play with wings up? Simply, modern attack caused it. Screen plays and extra numbers being thrown into attack mean you must have more personnel in defence to deal with all the possibilities. Teams was starting to “fix” the inside defence with screens and decoys and then making easy meters around the edge. So now our wing is up earlier and plays tighter to the outside centre to form part of the line.

A interesting thing is that the presence of the wing in the line has actually given our outside senter new options in defence. In the old days (two years ago) the 13 was the last man, and if he make a mistake then his team is in trouble. But as we see above there is opportunities for the 13 to be very aggressive now because of the safety of the wing next to him.

Above we see Wales is playing down the right. Jesse is able to slip past the decoy to hit Davies deep. He have Dyantyi on his shoulder so he don’t have to worry about the outside option. The tackle is good and Marx get a turnover because the Welsh support can not get back in time.

We saw Lukhanyo Am also blossoming with this freedom and make some excellent spot tackles this year, as in the picture below against the All Blacks.

Everything we have said so far sound easy, but it is not. The modern wing have a hell of a lot on his plate in terms of positioning and decisions and we can argue that it is now the most difficult place to defend in rugby. While Sbu Nkosi and Cheslin Kolbe has adapted quicker to the new system, Aphiwe Dyantyi is still finding his feet. It is on his wing that many teams has found space this year.

Above we see his mistake that led to a try. He make the call to commit and shoot up, but he do it too early and Anscombe is able to float a pass wide for the try.

Aphiwe should have “peddled” a bit first to buy time. Then he can try to hit man and ball if the pass go to North, or then he is still in a position to cover Williams who is out of frame. This timing and decision-making have troubled Aphiwe time and again this year, but he have shown improvement and the only way to learn this system is to play it.

As we see above, another interesting feature of the Bok defence is the use of the 9 in the front line, or in a roaming role. In the old days (two years ago) our scrummie use to run a sweep line behind the backs as cover and to guard against chips and grubbers. But now we see him up in the line and in the case of Faf, having a free role to shoot and disrupt the opposition wherever he can. In the Bok system a wise 9 can be a real weapon in defence.

It is interesting because that old sweeping role behind the backs have now fallen in the lap of our poor 15! Not only have we taken away one of his wings, but now he must also cover for those offensive kicks. So the modern fullback must have excellent positional knowledge.

A final piece of the defensive puzzle for the Boks is that they will sometimes send out very aggressive single shooters. When they have the numbers, we see guys like Pieter-Steph and Faf (above) often going up like missiles to try and do some damage. Even if a tackle is not made, the opposition is rushed and disrupted. This is a very valuable option in the Bok toolbag because we can rattle the attack in a mental way. We can get in their heads and cause uncertainty and hesitation.

So guys that is just a tip of the iceberg of the Bok defence. We have not even touched on the Bok breakdown philosophy and how that tie into the defence system too, but maybe that is a conversation for another day!

All I want to leave you with is that the Boks is building something valuable, and like anything valuable it will take time to perfect. There is easier defensive systems sure, but the long-term gain of having a feared and unpenetrable defence can not be measured.

Be patient, let the boys make mistakes and, like Ireland, one day we will reap the fruits!

DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans

- Oom Rugby

Let's chat

  • SweetAz

    Jaaa Swaer its difficult to teach those arrogant Lions new tricks,—-everything they don’t understand they just file under the heading domkrag. Thanks for educating us Oom.

    • SweetAz

      LOL,-and all the usual suspects fall off their high horses and throw a hissy fit like a drunk epileptic at a rave. Did you guys not read Ooms’ article? He clearly pointed out that “certain” members of the team are a bit “slow” to learn the new defensive system. So who are they?—-Dyanti and Marx of course,-where else did the Welsh tries come from?

      Just imagine how many MORE tries we would have leaked had their been more Lions in the team——-Sheeeeesh.

      • Wesley

        Tell that to the Breakthrough Player of the Year Winner and Worlds Best Player Nominee. I would call it clever trolling if it wasn’t as stupidly obvious…

        • Herman Schroder?

          Ha Ha Ha, don’t worry the Lions comment was meant for me. No sweat, he has nothing else to tag onto. Pitiful really. Cheers.

    • Wesley

      Ag dammit guys, stop falling for this bullsh*t! TROLLLLLL

    • albert Hoffmann

      Dumbaz, great comment, pity there are hardly any lions in the team, duh dumbaz.

    • Johan

      Aww sweeeeet!

      Makes sense, that is why the Lions have won 22 games and lost only one since May 2015 against SA sides in super rugby

      • SweetAz

        In the context of an article about the Bok defensive system how on earth do you jump to Super Rugby and the Lions? The article clearly states that Dyanti (a Lions player) is slow to learn the new system. Add the fact that Marx (a Lions player) who let in the other try against Wales, has been poor on this tour and even a blind chicken could understand my comment.

      • Matt

        I’d say that speaks more of the poor coaching by the other provincial teams rather than the players themselves.

        If you’re happy to blame the national coach for the poor performances of the Lions players in the national setup, and claim Ackermann as the sole capable coach as usual, then surely, by implication, we all agree, the problem at SR lvl was coaching staff at the unions, not the lack of quality talent in our player pool.

        Give the1014 guys a look. Their insights and opinions of the players is quite something and neither are Springbok fans, so completely neutral views, no need to worry about dom provincial bias and other nonsense clouding their goggles.

      • Barry

        As I recall, the Sharks beat the Lions in the last SR outing and oh, twice in the Currie Cup and then there was that huge embarrassment when the Lions got a hiding from Province not 6 weeks ago!

        • Herman Schroder?

          Barry, like the Wellington Bok win the Sharks win was an aberration against a depleted Lions side. If you count the watered down mickey mouse CC as part of your argument then you are clutching at straws mate. The Sharks at least showed some improvement but the Stormers who currently dominate Rassie’s Boks are just plain useless. Hence our poor test season. Cheers.

        • SweetAz

          I’m not a Bulls fan, never have been or will be, but it’s going to be even more embarrassing when the Bulls klap them next year with a team led by Duane Vermeulen, Brits at hooker, Willie at fullback. The snot and trane and excuses will be neverending.

          • Herman Schroder?

            SweetAz you are making a fool of yourself. Again you take an exception and try to make it the rule. I trust some of these posters have opened your eyes to the futility of your argument. Try and take it on board old chap because the stats don’t lie. Cheers.

      • albert Hoffmann

        only in SA could a national team be made up of the garbage that comes from the stormers and bulls when we have a team with stats like the one u just mentioned. and we wonder why we are still ranked 5th. who would have thought that making up a national team with players that finished at the bottom of SR would not be able to compete internationally. I m so shocked!

        • boyo

          I just don’t know how a “national side” can only have players from two geographical provinces in it.

          • SweetAz

            How do you figure that out? Are Marx, Dyanti, Whitely and Mostert from Western Province undercover team?

  • Albert

    Oom, you must be the only objective person here.

    I think most people can see what the Boks are trying to build and will have patience. Eddie Jones had great early success with England due to his simple style he introduced. But when they got figured out he had a succession of losses. Hence getting John Mitchell on board.

    Rassie has come in and introduced a complicated but potentially rewarding defensive approach which is completely different from the AC era. So naturally the boys will take time to adapt. And I think this has a knock on effect on our attack. Perhaps they are training hard on defence and neglecting the attack for the time being?

    This makes sense, because we all (or most of us) know that great defence wins world cups. Ireland beat New Zealand convincingly by denying them a single try in a game built on defensive pressure and excellent tactical kicking. England and Ireland are my bets for the World Cup purely down to their defensive systems and tactical acumen.

    • SweetAz

      Yeah, my pick is South Africa win their group beating AB’s. Ireland send the AB’s home in the quarters and beat South Africa in the final,—or we win the Lotto and SA beat Ireland in the final and we never have to hear from Herman again.

      • Herman Schroder?

        We won’t even make the Quarters. AB’s and Scotland to go through with the Boks to compete for ninth spot with a ‘hub cap’ as the trophy. Not bad when one considers we haven’t won a trophy since 2009′ Then you”ll never hear the end of me, lol. Enjoy your delusional moments. Cheers.

        • SweetAz

          Its going to be interesting to hear your excuses,—Let me help you get started,—–it will be an “aberration”

          • Herman Schroder?

            Maybe I won’t have to make excuses Nostradamus ? By the way please tell us who you support old chap. Not fair when you target our teams and stay mum on yours. Let’s see if you can take it. Looking forward to your post and please no ducking and diving, it’s unseemly. Cheers.

      • Chris Mouton

        Bwahaha! I had quite a chuckle now!

  • Chris Mouton

    Thank you, Oom. This is most likely the most valuable column on any rugby website. Funny enough, I also picked up that Nkosi and Kolbe had a better feeling for the system and that Dyantyi was struggling. The latter had a horrible Northern tour, even though a lot of it can be because of our lovely centres just running headfirst into contact. I’m learning a lot about the modern game from this column. For the other readers, check out the 1014 channel on Youtube. There’s a New Zealander and an Irishman speaking about the modern game, which also gives some valuable insight.

    • Matt

      Yeah, the opinions of those two guys on the1014 about Springbok rugby this year is very interesting.

      The ‘second screen’ stream of Springboks vs ABs 2nd test was very interesting, getting to see hear the input from previous AB selectors and big names as they watched the game, and their positive opinions of the Springboks attack, gameplan etc. With how positive they were, you’d swear they were the South Africa media and pundits, not ABs haha.

  • Barry

    Thanks, interesting read as always.

    I have also notice Kriel coming out of defensive line to rush onto the attacking player to try and shut down the attack, but it has been in the red zone and backfired to the tune of 7 points, because the tackle was missed. We also highlighted this last week with Damien’s rush on Hogg. Whilst appreciating that it is a work in progress, I wonder whether the system should not alter in the Red Zone to a more wall defensive structure? As you mentioned in your article, the objective of bringing the wing into the defensive line is too match the attacking numbers, but if the rush tackle is missed, then in effect we are back to an imbalance with more attackers than defenders and simply not enough space or time for the two sweeping in defence to fix it. I am Kind of suggesting that there should be different defensive strategies for different parts of the field?

    • Matt

      Is that not a more an error of judgement by the player concerned rather than a system error? And as the players adjust and learn to play the defensive system correctly and accurately, we’ll see these sorts of errors in judgement less and less?

      • Barry

        Matt I don’t think so, I believe its part of the plan, but very high risk if you don’t make the tackle. I’ve read in other forum that the objective is to prevent the ball from getting to the third receiver and they use this out of line rush to try and do that. Perhaps Oom could clarify?

  • Alberto

    …and you are rushing in from the wing defending on your goal line..?? The cross defence is going to make the cover – 10 yards out??? This defence makes sense..? Guess that is why I am not the Springbok coach…?

    • SweetAz

      Well, we all know why you have an ass for an avatar,-your comment just confirmed it.

  • Colin

    Love your Column Oom, just wished they would get picked up and shared on SArugbymag etc. where most people hang out, so they too can expend their understanding instead of bashing players and the team week in and week out.

  • Baylion

    Thank you OR, for an interesting and informative analysis

  • dbaggins

    Love jou werk Oom

    The Bok example of this working the best this year was the wellington test. With kriel playing wing for most of the match. As Oom rightly states that in a defensive line position the wing ends up having to make decisions that traditionally a 13 would make. Added to that, the same wing would have to act as a secondary fullback when play shifts to the opposite side, especially trying to cover any kicks into space.
    Rassie clearly also wants the back 3 to extremley potent in broken play.
    Considering the above I think it would be wise to rather play dyanti of the bench against the clinical teams such as AB’s and ireland. It is not a usual system and even if he has a great game (like he has had for most games of the season). The nature of such contests would be that the one/two errors could be costly. Off coarse one is losing the most potent finisher in the squad for most of the match if dyanti is placed on the bench. But it also forces opposition teams to look for other chinks in the armor which might be more difficult to exploit.

    If Rassie did do this swapping kolbe with dyanti would be the easiest. Or moving kriel to wing if am is fit again. Or bringing Gelant in for dyanti, or recalling Leyds onto the wing.

  • Sharky

    “We do not stand behind someone while they baking a cake and tell them every 5 minutes it don’t taste nice.” I like that. If you don’t mind I think I’ll use that… :)

  • RugbyPleeze

    Oom Rugby, I LOVE your clinical analysis as well as positivity after each match that the Boks have played. Your different approach to analysing and commenting via clips to illustrate your points are done extremely well.
    We need more rugby writers that can focus on what has happened on the filed rather than trying to make their own provincially-biased comments and trying to sell it.
    I am a realistic person but I can see that a glass half-full is also a glass half-empty, i.e. I can leave my provincially-biased opinion aside when commenting on Bok-performances.
    So my take is that we still have to solve the following positions to have a realistic xhance at the 2019 world cup:
    We urgently require the following still:
    – A backup fullback for Willie le Roux, possibly Kolbi or Aplon or the Kings’ 15;
    – At least 3 centres who can sidestep and have speed into a gap as well as defensively astound (like previously Mannetjies Roux, Eben Olivier and Danie Gerber and to a lesser extent John Gainsford) – closest I have seen in the past 4 years were Am, Ruhan Nel, Dyllan Leyds (even though I have not seen him in that position yet);
    – 2 flyhalfs that can make quick decisions of when to lie deep, when to kick tactically as well as place the ball on a one-cent piece, when to pass and pass precisely as well as have the speed off-the-line to take a gap when one is available;
    – A backup scrumhalf for Faf that can be at the ball each and every time, can tackle, can take a gap as well as do a proper box-kick as well as exit-kick, currently Jano Vermaak, Duvenage and Jaco Reinach are streets ahead of anyone that has been tried this past 2 years (I have always wondered if Kolbi should not have been tried here?);
    – A proper loose-trio combination (including Peter-Steph du Toit) that can hunt together, have good hands, can fetch the ball from a loose-scrum and that can out-fox opponents, i.e. not any juggernauts that just wants to smash through opponents (leave that for the locks and front-rows).
    I am satisfied with our first-5 and their backups as well as our 2 wings (no backups yet) and Willie le Roux (also no backup yet) (all of them just needs a little fine-tuning)

    We also need some more coaching and practice for:
    – Ball-protection skills for carrying and protecting the ball on attack by all players to counter the rip that is applied by all teams lately;
    – Better judgement from our two incumbent wings about when to try to tackle the inside centre or flyhalf;
    – More training of our locks and loose-trio to catch a ball at line-out time, not just deflect it in a “mog-het-troffe” way;
    – At least one a the loose-trio to be at the back of the line-out to counter for the occasional “over-throw” mistakes that happens (whenever Warren Whitely is at the back of the line-out, he does it well, but his overall play is not yet to where it was a couple of years ago);
    – All of the players should be taught to “read-the-situation” when they are attacking with the ball as to whether to “take-the-gap” or to “pass-after attracting the undivided attention of at least one defender” and whether to “go-to-ground-with-the-ball-placed-correctly-for their support-players” (previously we used the triangle-attack where 2 players were running, one on each side of the attacking player to allow for a “blind-offload” to either side which worked well but has now been forgotten;
    – Whoever from the coaching staff that decides on when to replace any or all of the front-row players to NOT DO IT 5 metres from your own goalline or from the opponents’ goalline.
    If we can unearth the above players required and get the stated skills implemented, the 2019 World Cup will be a “cake-walk” for us.
    ‘Nuff said

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