In defence of attack
At the conclusion of the regular Super Rugby season, the South African sides had notched up a combined total of 176 tries.
This was 13 less tries than their Australian adversaries and a significant 39 dot-downs fewer than their New Zealand counterparts.
Among the South African sides, the Bulls proved the most penetrative on attack – having scored 41 tries in total. While rugby followers often make too much of statistics, South African sides are clearly not as clinical on offence as their Australasian rivals.
In my opinion, the primary reason teams fail to attack effectively is owing to the fact that players are more often than not in unfavourable field positions on offence. I must, however, stress that this shortcoming is not reserved exclusively for South African sides.
Through my years of coaching and technical analysis, I have found that rugby players in general are lazy to re-position on attack. Usually, when a team is poorly positioned on attack, it stems from when they start playing from phase ball.
However, were teams to re-position timeously on offence, they would gain a significant advantage over the defenders.
Most teams work hard on defence to get into position as quickly as possible so why not have the same attitude on attack?
I believe that players often fail to realise the importance of this facet of play. For me, just like defence, attack should be about attitude.
This season, the Crusaders are arguably the finest exponents of effective positioning on attack. Against the Reds in the first qualifier, this was most evident during the build-up to the Crusaders’ opening try in the 11th minute.
As the Crusaders’ backline lined up for a scrum on the right-hand side of the field, instinctively I knew they would score owing to what I term a ‘tandem-type of support.’
What the Crusaders did from a tactical standpoint was position a player behind pivot Dan Carter and another man behind inside centre Tom Taylor. The backs then all ran different angles, which confused the Reds’ defence.
The visitors were out-strategised, as putting four players on defence in that position would have exposed them on the outside.
Thus, the point I wish to emphasise is that a team’s positioning on attack can disrupt an opponent’s defensive system even before a set-play has occurred.
The Crusaders showed this past weekend that keeping the ball in the air gives one an advantage on attack.
It maintains ball-speed and prevents the defenders from re-aligning. Moreover, it presents attackers with an uneven defensive line and thus more space to attack.
The Chiefs and Crusaders have the same attitude to playing and it will therefore be a much faster game than the Bulls-Brumbies clash.
In the first semifinal, the major difference between the two sides will be in terms of execution in different areas of the game.
The Crusaders treat the basics as non-negotiable and, combined with this, have the ability to capitalise on the smallest of attacking opportunities with a ‘no fear’ attitude in tow.
The Chiefs, while not scared to play, don’t possess the same balance between attack and defence as the Crusaders do.
If we examine the Bulls, as opposed to their New Zealand counterparts, they rely heavily on their forwards dominating and flyhalf Morne Steyn controlling play through astute tactical kicking. As soon as the Bulls begin to dominate territory, they have the ability to score tries.
Furthermore, physicality plays a very important part of the Bulls’ success. Games, in which they struggled this season, saw their forwards matched physically.
Their defeat to the Stormers at Newlands serves as a fitting example.
For the last two fixtures, the Bulls have struggled in the lineouts. Victor Matfield will need to solve this problem quickly as this is an area which Jake White’s Brumbies will surely target.
If the Brumbies are able to exert pressure on the Bulls’ lineout – in the absence of influential Juandre Kruger – they can then minimise the home side’s effective mauling tactic as well as their momentum on attack.
As both sides go to ground fairly regularly, expect a few penalties to ensue. Craig Joubert, one of the best referees around, is quite strict on players going off their feet and sealing off.