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Opinion

Analysing the Springboks’ in-play maul

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18th September, 2020
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In the Rugby World Cup final, we saw one of Rassie Erasmus’ best tricks up his sleeve.

The ball was played through the backs and straight back to an eight-man pod of forwards, which formed a maul shape to drive the English defence backwards. This later won a penalty with a desperate foul by Dan Cole by collapsing the maul.

How exactly did Erasmus pull this off?

First we have a major tweak in the lineout. South Africa often play it with the maul, as South Africa have the strongest pack of forwards in the world as well as by a long mile the world’s best lineout with multiple lineout options.

However, we see no attempted contested jump from South Africa, which means that they do not take the maul option from the lineout, which had unleashed a beastly load of raw power when that happened.

Instead, the ball went straight into the hands of Eben Etzebeth as if it was just a pass. Etzebeth turns to take it away to Faf de Klerk, who fires it away to Damian de Allende. By taking the ball quickly and dropping it away to the scrumhalf, South Africa get ahead as they are faster in the transfer of the ball.

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Playing away to De Allende is a default move that South Africa often use with strong first-phase carries through their power centre. Now, this phase is comprised solely of backs, who barrel into Jamie George and Billy Vunipola.

George makes the tackle, and Vunipola gets sucked in to contest the ruck against the backs, not realising that the front-line of this phase consists of three of the most physical backs in the competition.

Lukhanyo Am and Handre Pollard stand their ground, and Pollard’s physicality comes in extremely handily here.

He poises himself like a flanker, doggedly low to the ground. He is in a lower body posture than Vunipola and thus easily knocks over the loose forward’s counter-ruck attempt.

He proceeds to clean out the neutralised forward, and Makazole Mapimpi follows in behind to secure the ruck. The ball comes back in through De Klerk and is slung away to the eight-man pod lined up for bashing just left of the ruck.

Rassie Erasmus

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Firstly, this move has a similar pattern to several other moves used by South Africa. Against Australia in the Rugby Championship, after a phase right off a set play, the Australian defence was thinned and not spread onto the other side.

No defenders were marking Pieter-Steph du Toit. Du Toit calls for the ball, busting a tackle and bursting through. An excellent kick from the flanker, which was regathered by Herschel Jantjies, just epitomised the skill of such a player.

From the ruck of Jantjies’ recollection, a strong carry from Lodewyk de Jager got the Boks right over the line.

In the Rugby Championship draw with the All Blacks, 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 Cheslin Kolbe on the outside, and give that man the space for a break. His grubber kick downfield found Beauden Barrett, who was smashed into touch again by Du Toit.

The first move used resulted in a try. The second move used resulted in territorial gain. But the thing was simple, playing one phase right and then employing a big ball carrier into the play. In the first move it caused the line break. In the second move, it bought space for Kolbe to make his line break in the game.

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The concept of the move was to play one phase right, and then use the big ball carrier in some way, at least to cause trouble for the defenders.

In that maul move in the World Cup final it was using the big ball carrier to take the ball into contact. However, in this case, it was not just one ball carrier, but it was the entire Springboks forward pack.

The maul was well structured. It went with the heaviest taking the ball first into contact, before turning and forming the maul. Duane Vermeulen does that, but turns slightly before contact.

Who joins shoulders with him? The props. The props are used to lift lineout jumpers, and also drive the scrums. This is extremely logical as this maul shares some similarity to a scrum. This has a scrum-like structure.

In this case, Vermeulen is the hooker, with the props driving him on either sides. Siya Kolisi serves as the second row of this scrum. Then, the locks come in as flankers on either sides of Kolisi to add the drive to the maul, while Du Toit serves as the eight-man.

He is the fastest forward and is a nippy player in case South Africa need a breakaway. I would like to credit Squidge Rugby for some material from his video So how did South Africa win the World Cup Final.

The dynamic structure powers forwards into the static England defensive line, and continue to drive forwards. The momentum of this maul is unstoppable, forcing Dan Cole to tackle Vermeulen in the maul, illegally collapse it and concede the penalty, which makes it free points converted by Pollard.

This was an extremely interesting bit of play, and was by far one of Erasmus’ most effective moves.

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