Neil de Kock: Wallabies struck better balance than Springboks
After the Springboks’ first defeat in this year’s Rugby Championship, the critics will be out in force to lambast the Boks for their style of play.
The coaches and players have already copped plenty of criticism for being conservative and one-dimensional but the question is: Do you adopt a pragmatic style and win or do you play entertaining rugby and run the risk of losing?
Test match rugby is about winning and you need to do what you believe is going to give you the best chance of achieving that.
A New Zealand scribe wrote that “the Springboks were one-dimensional and far too reliant on opposition mistakes to get them into the game.” The All Blacks have always employed a different style but I think it’s a misconception that they don’t play conservatively at times.
The perception that they are the attacking saviours of world rugby is because they are deadly from turnovers and score plenty of tries. In contrast, the South Africans are lethal on defence and at set-piece, so why not play to those strengths? People can write and say what they want – until teams totally unpick the Springboks and make it very difficult for them to win games, why should they alter their game style?
Some will be critical of the fact that all three of the Springboks’ tries against the Wallabies were scored from rolling mauls but again you play to your strengths and what you deem is going to be effective on the day. The tactic of kicking the ball into the corner and having Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx score three tries between them from the lineout drive was pleasing. For South Africa, it’s about building confidence over time and layering their game by attacking more with ball in hand.
Having employed a run-from-everywhere approach against the All Blacks, the Wallabies put a more measured game plan into practice against the Springboks. The Wallabies are a young team who need some guidance and to be led. For all intents and purposes, Test veteran Quade Cooper did that. Traditionally, Cooper was always the man who was trying to pull off miracle passes and run from his own goal-line and yet this past weekend was probably the most measured I have ever seen him play.
Cooper was outstanding on the day and it was a triumphant return against the world champions no less. From being in the Test wilderness – playing club rugby in Australia – to getting pulled back into the national set-up after four years is an unbelievable story for someone who has stuck at it. By all accounts, he was down and out of the international game.
The 33-year-old has gone on to speak about how he spent time with Sonny Bill Williams, who has been like an older brother to him, and how he cleared his mind and found a new approach. On-field, the 9-10 axis for Australia worked well. Cooper’s starting halfback partner, Tate McDermott, is an absolute livewire who can rip open a game.
However, Nic White is an astute player and made a difference when he came on. White is probably very annoying to most South African supporters but he is effective. He made good decisions in the second half and is adding to the more measured approach the Wallabies are chasing.
The Wallabies made more passes (129-54) runs (98-60) and running metres (280-183) than the Springboks but that was always going to be the case because it’s part of their DNA.
However, against the Springboks, the Wallabies were far more patient in terms of their tactical approach and found a better blend by putting the boot to ball more often and gaining the aerial and territorial ascendancy.
On a technical front, something which has been largely overlooked is how the Wallabies escorted the Springbok kick-chasers back incredibly well. They marked the Boks, prevented them from getting up in the air and ultimately proving effective aerially. After the Tests against the All Blacks, the Wallabies clearly went away and worked on how to shepherd the Springbok chasers.
At one point, Makazole Mapimpi complained to the assistant referee that he was being blocked but I felt the aerial contest was pretty fair. As a player, you have got to find ways and means to pick your line and get up in the air. There might have been one or two instances where there was some potential changing of lanes but if you were to unpick the game you could finger both teams for said tactics.
The bottom line is that the Springboks were frustrated on the day as the aerial battle, a space in which they are usually quite dominant, became a 50/50 contest and neutralised a primary weapon.
Handre Pollard, who had a below par kicking display, has been backed again this weekend for the second Test against Australia. It makes sense for me because he is one of the critical components to the Springbok success. I have no doubt that Pollard has both the ability and mindset to bounce back.
Following an 11-year career with Saracens, which saw him earn 264 caps, Neil de Kock now works in the rugby division at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport in South Africa. De Kock, who featured in 10 Test matches for the Springboks, provides RugbyPass with expert opinion and insight focusing on the southern hemisphere sides.
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