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Springboks underline the task facing Schmidt's Ireland in November

Heyneke Meyer’s men showed ambition with ball in hand against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.

South Africa beat the All Blacks in a titanic clash at Ellis Park last weekend.
South Africa beat the All Blacks in a titanic clash at Ellis Park last weekend.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE SCALE OF the task facing Ireland when South Africa visit in just over a month’s time was ominously underlined by the Springboks’ 27-25 victory over New Zealand last weekend.

The forward power and sheer abrasiveness of Heyneke Meyer’s side has been repeatedly and deservedly flagged, but their success against the Kiwis saw attacking elements that are perhaps not always typical.

South Africa will travel to the 2015 Rugby World Cup as leading contenders even if they continue with exactly the same game plan as they have operated under in the last two years, but there have been hints of Meyer recognising the value of adding new strings to the bow this year.

Attacking from deep

Meyer has often argued against the common perception of South Africa as a kick and chase, forward-obsessed and conservative team, but those protestations have usually fallen on deaf ears.

If you’re good at marching the opposition pack over the tryline at maul time, it makes sense to play territory and pressurise the other team into kicking the pill into touch.

It would be unfair to suggest that the Boks have had only one plan under Meyer, but their first-choice tactics are usually so effective that there is little need to mix it up. However, having not beaten New Zealand since August 2011, Meyer [who joined in 2012] recognised the need to alter the approach somewhat.

Try from Deep

Francois Hougaard’s 11th-minute try on Saturday appeared to stun not only the All Blacks, but most other people present in Ellis Park. South African fans have always understood that their players had high skills levels, but this kind of try has been rare.

It’s interesting to note that the passage above starts with Willie le Roux’s insistence that something is on – there is a chance to strike from deep.

During the June tests, we looked at the unpredictable and skillful streak he brings to the Springboks, and Meyer’s continuing faith has been rewarded with strong performances.

How often have we seen the Boks simply blast the ball clear with the boot in a situation like the one above? There is no intention of suggesting that Meyer’s side have never run the ball from deep, but the mindset for this try was notable.

Width

Lineout Width

From a line-out platform, the Boks have traditionally been very direct, either employing that remarkably powerful maul or sending a centre, wing or back row carrying into the All Blacks’ midfield defence.

In the GIF above, however, we see the Boks look to width on Saturday at Ellis Park, skirting the All Blacks and scoring a try three phase later through out-half prodigy Handré Pollard.

From the Back

Looking at the initial break from behind, we see the All Blacks midfield defence generating decent line speed and they are apparently expecting a direct hit-up in the middle of the pitch.

It’s a relatively straightforward miss pass from Jean de Villiers to le Roux that creates the space, but as we see in the shot below, New Zealand centres Malakai Fekitoa and Conrad Smith have totally committed themselves to tackling De Villiers and outside centre Jan Serfontein.

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From the Back .1

Steve Hansen’s men are usually loath to over-commit in this fashion, preferring instead a traditional drift defence where they use the sideline as an extra defender. Against the Boks, they appear to be expecting a midfield hit-up and come up hard and fast instead.

Three phases after Bryan Habana is hauled down, the South Africans score through Pollard, who is another interesting new dimension to their attacking potential.

Three Phases Later

It’s intelligent, heads-up rugby from Pollard to finish the passage, as he recognises loosehead prop Joe Moody in the New Zealand defensive line and perfectly exploits the mismatch.

While 20-year-old Pollard is an excellent kicker and can be relied upon by Meyer in a more territory-dominated game plan, he also has a strong attacking skillset and offers a breaking threat himself, as viewers of recent Junior World Championships will attest to.

Morné Steyn cannot be discounted by any means, but Pollard represents a balanced midpoint between the Stade Français man’s game management and the creative instincts of Pat Lambie.

We could put the Pollard try down to plain old bad reads in midfield, rather than New Zealand being surprised by the attack, were it not for an extremely similar example later in the first half.

Width Line-out

Again, it’s that simple skip pass that leaves New Zealand scrambling and even though South Africa don’t actually get a positive outcome from this attack, it does again demonstrate that it’s not quite what the Kiwi backs were expecting.

As we see below, Fekitoa and Smith have again rushed up, looking to meet the anticipated South African directness behind the gainline and therefore giving themselves a greater chance of winning the collision.

Midfield Pair

These attacking thrusts unsettled Hansen’s side, quite probably going against what their pre-match analysis had told them to expect.

The Boks went into the half-time break 21 – 13 up after Pollard had scored a second, but there was a fightback from New Zealand in the second 40.

Interestingly, South Africa’s tactics changed in the second half, as they attacked with less ambition and kicked the ball more often. Granted, many of those kicks were highly contestable, but it still represented a shift in mindset from Meyer’s side.

A more rounded test for Ireland?

The Springboks are not quite at the All Blacks’ level in terms of a rounded attacking skillset, although recent signs have suggested that Meyer recognises that his men need to be able to win games in more way than one.

Ireland will still be expecting a highly confrontational approach from the Boks next month, particularly with Joe Schmidt being deprived of two of his best athletes in Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy.

That South Africa are creating tries in different ways only adds to an already demanding challenge.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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