Boks seek judicious deployment of strength
It was when the driving maul got going early in the second half of the Aviva Stadium test that the Springboks got on top of Ireland, so it wasn’t surprising that forward coach Johan van Graan was asked on Tuesday why the tactic had not been deployed from the outset.
Bok hooker and vice-captain Adriaan Strauss had partially answered the question straight after the game when he said that the Irish had success at sacking the Bok maul early in the game.
But it turned out to be the avenue open to a Bok victory, and while we may never know exactly what head coach Heyneke Meyer said to his forwards at halftime, it could well have been something along the lines of: “I don’t want any damn excuses, just get on top of them or we are going to lose this game!”
Meyer probably did want more of a forward emphasis earlier on, for he said on Monday that his team was guilty of not building an innings. The cricket analogy is usually another way of saying that the players didn’t set up enough store in attaining physical superiority before, as flyhalf Patrick Lambie admitted they did, playing too much rugby.
The way the game is played is different in the northern hemisphere to the south (though maybe someone should remind the All Blacks of that for sometimes they appear blissfully unaware of this reality), and Van Graan believes the different emphasis over here makes the northern teams better equipped to blunt the Bok strength.
“The maul and the sacking of the maul is a big part of the game in the northern hemisphere, as it is in our game back home, and you have to respect your opponents,” said Van Graan.
“The driving maul is something that needs to be used cleverly. In other words, it needs to be deployed at the right times, and from the right areas of the field. The northern hemisphere teams do stop the maul very well. It’s all about game management, and on Saturday it was Jean (De Villiers) and Juandre (Kruger) that were making those calls.”
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The refereeing also plays a big role, and Van Graan reiterated the words of Meyer and skipper De Villiers last Saturday night that the Boks need to adapt to the referee better than they did in Dublin.
“It is about adapting to the referee, but after halftime Duane (Vermeulen) and Juandre worked particularly hard at keeping the base up, and once your base is up it is really hard for the opposition to sack you effectively. It’s all about synergy and working together as a unit, each player knowing and understanding his role.”
Scotland may not be among the upper echelon of northern hemisphere teams at the moment, but Van Graan believes mauling and lineouts are one of their big strengths. “It is going to be a good challenge for us to blunt them there,” he said.
“They’re also very good at messing up opposition ball, and on sustaining pressure by keeping the ball when in the opposition 22. They have some big runners in the backline.”