Adaptability the key
As discussed in last week’s column, I felt the Pumas would prosper if they played the game at a faster tempo, probed for space more often and put pressure on the Springboks’ attack.
This past Saturday in Mendoza, Argentina came close to beating the Boks as they effectively adapted their game strategy.
Primarily the Pumas generated speed from the base of the rucks, which consequently nullified the effect of Francois Louw at the breakdown. The fetcher was far less effective than last week owing to the fact that there were fewer slow phases for him to strike from.
Moreover, the Pumas were able to catch the Bok defence off guard and out of position by employing a ball-in-hand approach and making use of quick inter-passing. This is an area of the game which the All Blacks in particular excel at.
In this instance, as a defender, it becomes difficult to go for the big hit as you then run the risk of tackling a player without the ball.
Graham Henry’s influence on the Pumas’ tactical shift from the FNB Stadium test was evident. He would have stressed that if your only tactic is to take on the Boks physically, you will come off second best.
That said, I must compliment the Pumas for the way in which they defended against the Boks’ big ball-carriers. They tackled the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Adriaan Strauss around the ankles, which limited the opportunities for generating momentum.
This technical adjustment was in direct contrast to the week prior, where the Pumas had gone for their opponents’ upper body, which in turn placed them under severe pressure.
Argentina also made use of counter-rucking rather than going for the ball all the time, which paid dividends.
For a technical viewpoint, in order to be effective, the counter-ruck has to be carried out immediately and in numbers.
While usually initiated by the tackler, the support players play a pivotal role in its success. As long as the arriving players don’t go off their feet, turnover ball is likely to be won.
For me, the All Blacks are the masters of this art as they only make use of the counter-ruck in areas of the field where they know the support will be less in the contact.
An effective counter-ruck also places increased pressure on the scrumhalf to clear the ball timeously from the base. This is fundamentally why Ruan Pienaar struggled to play the fast game, which Fourie du Preez perfected the week before.
However, as the Pumas’ defence was far more resolute during the return leg, I’m of the opinion that the Boks should have adapted accordingly.
I strongly believe that intelligent tactical kicking from our flyhalf, in particular, would have taken significant pressure off the team.
Essentially the Boks would have been better served pinning the Pumas in their own half and using their set-piece strength to their advantage.
I believe the best teams are those who are able to offer a balanced approach and tailor their strategies according to each opponent.
Each test has its own identity and as such it’s crucial for teams to make the necessary tactical and technical adjustments.
It’s also essential that coaches are willing to change key personnel if the game-plan employed is not yielding positive results.
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