You’ve got an uncle in the rugby analysis business. OOM RUGBY ponders an important instant in the game against Scotland. And proves many preconceptions about Springbok rugby dead wrong.
What do we see in the picture above? The Springboks is running the ball from their own 22 in the 13th minute of a important World Cup match against Scotland. But how can this be? Surely the Boks is boring and one dimensional like everyone say? And actually if I remember correct, earlier in the year people say the Boks play too loose. So what is going on? How can one team be accuse of so many different things?
The answer will surprise you.
To start, let us look at the moment above. Scotland kick off very deep on us. We have carried it twice and now it is 3rd phase. Fourie du Preez have skipped his forwards (Eben and Jannie in the picture) and passed to Pollard. Handre can pass to Lood in channel 2 to carry again, but instead he will go wider to Willie, Duane, Jesse and Bryan who will make many metres down the far touchline.
This is interesting for many reasons.
First this whole sequence was not a set play. If we watch it unfold it is three phases where the players themself make spur-on-the-moment decisions and then create the necessary shape to execute.
Second it show us that the Boks is not one dimensional – even though they played a very practical and physical game against the stubborn Scottish. They are running out of their 22!
Third it show us the value of “forwards in the backline”. Near the ruck at Fourie and wider with Lood and Willie, it is clear how the presence of bigger runners have tie up Scottish defenders. Most of the Scots is in the bottom half of the picture. Like the coaches say, the Boks have “shortened the Scottish line”. And now there is space out wide.
But what this picture really tell us is that if we look for a Bok gameplan, we will not find one. There is no set Bok “gameplan”. When we look at the Springboks we must rather look at it as a framework, and within that framework the players decide what options they want to take.
It is the opposite of what most casual rugby fans think. In their mind the Boks plays prescriptive programmed rugby, but the truth is much more interesting than that…
I have analyse a lot of Bok games and it is clear to me that Heyneke’s philosophy of rugby is about two things: Flexibility and Resources.
He have correctly recognise that modern rugby is not your oupa’s style of 9, 10, 12 & 13 standing in a lekker line. It is much more dynamic and fast. After three phases traditional “structure” break down. Forwards must distribute, backs must clean. It is the way New Zealand play, it is the way most nations plays.
So what Heyneke want is that in any situation, on attack or defence, the Boks is able to immediately set up shape with the personel who is on the scene. Then within that shape, the players has options for where and how they want to execute.
Watch the Boks next time and you will see it. At the moment of contact the nearest players will organically create shapes base on their common understanding and on what they feel that moment require. And usually the shape they create will give the man passing the ball more than one option. Forwards and backs will combine to create depth outside the rucks. It is like a organic hive of bees that acts in a fluid and reactive way.
Of course the Boks plays with pre-determine structure as well. They will have specific match tactics, set moves, power plays, exit moves and so on. But over the course of 160 rucks in a game the onus fall on the players to create shapes and make decisions themself.
In a broad sense Heyneke want the Boks to have a common understanding and a common toolbox that all 15 guys draws on as the game flow.
Do you understand now why there is so many different opinions about the Boks? The outcomes of their games relies very much on the players themself. And sometimes they take the wrong options or do not adapt to what is happening on the field. They try to run when they should be kicking, or they kick when they should be running. Etc.
We can debate this approach. It is the opposite of the Jake White philosophy where guys follows a more simple blueprint. But for me I find it exciting and forward-thinking.
Yes it require a specific type of player who can handle that pressure and does not need you to hold his hand, but Heyneke will find them. And over time as players get more comfortable and learn to read the flow of games better the system will flourish. That is why I am not concerned that Meyer has signed a extended contract.
He is laying the groundwork for the evolution of Springbok rugby.