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Are the Springboks the new 'wide' boys of rugby?

By Jon Newcombe
TOPSHOT - South Africa's outside center Jesse Kriel (L) hands-off Ireland's outside centre Robbie Henshaw during the first Rugby Union test match between South Africa and Ireland at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria on July 6, 2024. (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP) (Photo by PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty Images)

One thing that is up for discussion in the next episode of Boks Office, available soon on RugbyPass TV, is how much width South Africa put on their game, especially in the first half of Saturday’s 27-20 win over Ireland.


A titanic arm wrestle of a match was expected between the world’s two best teams who have built their success on physicality, and whilst there was plenty of heavy duty collisions – the ground is still shaking after Siya Kolisi sat down Robbie Henshaw – the way the Springboks came out to play was evident from the moment that Kurt-Lee Arendse scorched down the left wing for an early try.

Thanks to our friends at Opta, we can reveal that the Springboks played touchline to touchline more than any other team involved in the eight major internationals in last Saturday’s action-packed schedule.

Video Spacer

Springbok attack coach Tony Brown on Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel

Tony Brown wants to change the way fans view Damian de Allende on the playing field.

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Springbok attack coach Tony Brown on Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel

Tony Brown wants to change the way fans view Damian de Allende on the playing field.

South Africa stats
Playing with width – the top 5 teams from the first weekend of the July internationals.

Whereas at one end of the scale England kept things exceptionally tight in their 15-16 defeat to the All Blacks in Dunedin, moving just 3% of their possession 20 metres or more away from the ruck, South Africa’s wide ball movement accounted for 16% of their attacking play.

Whilst Argentina and Wales were only just behind them in the stats, South Africa looked far more dangerous whenever they got the ball to the flanks.

This point was not lost on former Rugby World Cup winners and regular Boks Office studio guests, Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger, who believe the approach under new attack coach, Tony Brown, is bringing out the best in players like midfield duo, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel.


“I would say we had complete dominance in the first half. If it wasn’t for Kwagga Smith’s two blunders, one off the kick off and one off a 22 drop out, they wouldn’t have had any entry into our half and that was down to us playing a little bit wider, in the 13 channel and wider,” says Burger.

“We were so effective in the first half because we got so much momentum in our first phase attack. It was the most prominent game Jesse Kriel has had in attack in a Springbok jumper in recent memory because of the way we played.”

Burger says how pleased he is to see a more free-spirited Springboks, pressing the ‘go wide’ button out of choice rather than only adopting that mentality when there is a free play from a knock-on or penalty advantage.

“That free play – that’s when we’re more likely to play it out the back. But now, we are accessing those areas off first phase or in general play, putting out the back. I think there were 170-odd passes against what you normally get in a game like that, which is 70.”


De Villers, meanwhile, praises fellow centre de Allende, for the way he expressed himself with ball in hand.

“I have said it for so long, I think Damian has such a good passing game but he never gets the opportunity to actually play that game because we use him so much as a battering ram. He could certainly show that a little bit more this weekend (vs Ireland in Durban); that one channel wider creates so much more space.”

Whilst the arrival of former All Blacks fly-half Tony Brown has ignited the Springboks’ attack, Burger believes the transition is also down to the laws around the maul which have made it easier to defend.

“We get so many lineouts in that area, on halfway, or just the other side of halfway, and our own ball we would normally revert to a maul.

“For a long, long time now it is so hard to get any reward from that (the maul) because the opposition has got time to swim around – the new way of stopping that maul.

“You can go forward five metres of whatever but, by the end of it, you use it once and you have got to play it, and it is so hard to generate anything from that. So I think the fact we didn’t maul was a big positive from the Boks.”

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paul 13 days ago

That SA centre combo was wasted talent. Such strong quality players reduced to tackling all day long. De allende is a beast like nonu or umaga. Downtown going to unleash the hounds.

Easy_Duzz-it 14 days ago

When you have a dominating forward pack you have the right to go wide …

Westscot 14 days ago

Hope Dan Sheehan has a good recovery. nasty type of injury that. Think Marx had one too.

Haami 15 days ago

Well some All Black fans have been banging on this drum for years, asking why South Africa with all their speed, guile and talent were so scared to let the backs have a turn with the ball. I expect to see some absolute stunning running rugby out of the Boks with arguably the 2 finest wingers in world rugby in Cheslin Kolbe, and Kurt-Lee Arendse why wouldn’t you want them both with the ball in space? Throw in WIllie Le Roux coming off the back fence and you have a dangerous counterattacking back three.

Flankly 15 days ago

Two stories in the game: 1) Irish ruck shenanigans combined with Luke Pearce laxity, resulting in farcical ruck contests, and 2) a newfound Bok attack featuring wide distribution and loose forwards in the tramlines.

Hoping for a more orthodox reffing performance this week, for the Boks to double down on the new attacking model, and for Ireland to ditch the spoiling and niggle, to play some rugby.

Ed the Duck 15 days ago

Ireland got smashed, as expected. But it will be even worse next game…!

Chris 15 days ago

The swimming around in the maul is so unnecessary, it makes a mess of a once beautiful part of the game. I also hate the rule, “taken in”. Yes if it’s a back running into forwards and it becomes a maul, but the taken in rule encourages negative play from the opposing team. Often the ball is about to come out and then the defender goes and lies on the ball.

finn 15 days ago

“England kept things exceptionally tight in their 15-16 defeat to the All Blacks in Dunedin, moving just 3% of their possession 20 metres or more away from the ruck”

Thats what you get with Marcus Smith!

Hes not doing a bad job, but we would really benefit from Ford being fit, or from Fin Smith developing into an international player.

Reuben 15 days ago

Yeah except you missed the fact their wide running game is shit.

Turlough 15 days ago

In the earth shattering tackles ofcourse no mention of Snyman’s dangerous and cowardly ‘tackle’ on Casey resulting in what should for Casey’s wellbeing be a career ending injury. The quid pro quo of playing all that ‘wide’ rugby at altitude is you need to finish your opponents off before oxygen debt catches up with no oxygen rich air to recover with. The guys forgot to note that for all SAs attck they failed to score for 40 misn in the middle of the game, the only two entries into Ireland’s 22 were the two tries, boith gifts from Ireland. Ireland looked like they could score at will towards the end of the game and had two genuine tries dissallowed. Any of the 14 gifted to SA or the 14 taken from Ireland and there is a different result.

Ireland will be kicking themselves after that: SA were finished after 50 mins bar the gifts from Ireland. Snyman needs to come to a reckoning for what he did to Casey. That can’t be let go, but I think Ireland can take the win also (please for the love of fvck don’t call me ‘arrogant’ for saying that)

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