In 2019, Springbok forward Pieter-Steph du Toit was deservedly elected (men’s) World Rugby Player of the Year only 24 hours after he had played a major role in dismantling England’s World Cup dreams in Yokohama.
With 15 highly potent players on the pitch, the Boks have a style of play that effectively sets players into the gaps in the defensive line.
With a prolific halfback pair, the Springboks already have a set to anchor upon. Though most praise has been heaped upon the inner half Faf de Klerk, both players are equally integral as cogs in the Springboks attack.
Unlike the All Blacks, their attack isn’t as loose, colourful and wild, but their attack is tightly knitted together and the opposite of eccentricity. They centralise around a powerhouse forward pack, which drives the team. Modus operandi: tightly weaved three-man pods. The front row is one good example. Off forward set plays, Damian de Allende is the set-piece attack with hard carries, setting up the first-phase platform for the other talented handling backs to play off.
This is epitomised in the 16-16 draw with the All Blacks in the 2019 World Cup. The Springboks backs don’t try to jink past the defenders at the first chance they get. Willie Le Roux and Handre Pollard are the two key playmakers of the team.
In their try at the 11th hour, we see a solid carry from De Allende as the first-phase carry of the lineout. The whole plan is to play some phases off Le Roux and Pollard, move it to one end of the pitch, and back again. As they have got it to the left side of the field, one phase comes off the scrumhalf, and Pollard sets up a prop in another phase.
Le Roux lazily jogs behind the attack, being deliberately late in the attacking line. In the final phase, they use the massive Pieter-Steph Du Toit to draw in Ardie Savea as a dummy runner. Initially it seems that the All Blacks have it covered. Savea marks Pollard, George Bridge marks Cheslin Kolbe, Richie Mo’unga as one of the two defensive fullbacks is to stay behind and watch for any form of break.
Even with Savea out of line, it seems alright. Bridge still can hit Pollard. Mo’unga, who dwells behind, marks Cheslin Kolbe. Pollard took the ball fast, hitting the line with superb pace, putting the no-look pass to Le Roux, who does a similar action: a no-look to Kolbe.
Here, Du Toit is a dummy runner to draw in Ardie Savea. Le Roux flies in at top speed, forcing Mo’unga to bite in and hit Le Roux, who fixes his man and sends it wide. Kolbe takes the ball fast and is released with the space he needs to unleash his pace and agility. He fixes Beauden Barrett and puts in the chip kick, which resulted in Herschel Jantjies regathering and scoring the try for the Boks to equalise. Both men are hitting the lines at top speed and their passing just shows how the ball quickly goes through their sublime ball handling to the open winger. Playing flat, this is ideal to the Boks.
It is time to note another key man in the attack, Faf de Klerk. Not just is he the best defensive nine on the planet, his passing is lethally acute, similar to Handre Pollard and Willie Le Roux. His speed off any attacking platform is lethal towards any opposition.
In the World Cup, it is evident in his try in the quarter-finals. Malcom Marx carried hard off the lineout, one-handed offloading to the nine, who brushed aside the covering Kenki Fukuoka to score close to the uprights. His box-kicking is lethal and his work makes the ten’s job a lot easier.
Let us cap on the runners – players who drive the defenders mad with carrying impact, Cheslin Kolbe and Pieter-Steph Du Toit. Du Toit is a massive tackler. In the Rugby Championship and some parts of the World Cup, we see how he is such a colossal carrying impact. The flanker was a standout in their first loss to the All Blacks, scoring the only try of the night for the Springboks.
Off a ruck, he is the first supporting player. While in normal occasions, Du Toit just secures the ruck, he spots no defenders in his way. Thus, he picks up the ball and runs straight through the space to score directly under the posts. In the Rugby Championship another example is even more evident.
After a phase right, the Australian defence was thinned and not spread onto the other side. No defenders were marking Du Toit. Du Toit calls for ball, busting a tackle and bursting through. An excellent kick from the flanker, which was regathered by Jantjies, just epitomised the skill of such a player. From the ruck Jantjies’ recollection resulted in a strong carry from Lodewyk de Jager to get the Boks right over the line.
For Kolbe, there are many incidents in which he has shown off his unreal sidestep and prolific pace. He is a phenomenal line-breaker who merely requires a single yard of space to turn any situation into a try-scoring opportunity. In the World Cup, the presence of Du Toit in attack attracted the All Blacks to bite in to hit him to allow De Klerk to send the ball to Kolbe on the outside, and give that man the space for a break. His grubber kick downfield found Barrett, who was smashed into touch again by Du Toit.
Kolbe’s speed means any cross kick to him from the sublime tactical boots of Le Roux and Pollard or De Klerk is an exhilarating try chance.
Ironically, Kolbe’s try in the World Cup final was created by Du Toit, who sent the ball out with a decent pass to find Kolbe in space. With that yard of space, Kolbe stepped English defenders to get a try for his team, being the second South African to score in a World Cup final.
The work of the playmakers is not directly linked to the try yet this is the effect of two highly skilled runners. With the five weaved into play, the Boks attack is one of the deadliest in the world.