As if it were a story by Jorge Luis Borges, South Africa once again embodies multiple performances and a single role, where the particularities result from the changing world, but the story is usually the same – and it repeats itself.
Consolidating again as a power and as New Zealand’s main hemispheric rival, South Africa returns to the scene with a solid and effective defensive system.
We can say that the Springboks (the defence less beaten) and New Zealand (a fast and effective attack) will dispute the leadership of the Rugby Championship in which Australia and Argentina will be simple supporting actors?
South Africa’s defensive strength is based on a system that generates maximum pressure on the defensive line by adjusting the work upward, from De Allende and Am, towards the winger positions. The implementation of this defensive model has been very effective and thus far only the Lions, driven by Finn Russell’s unpredictability, have seriously questioned the system.
So far, South Africa’s defensive performance in Rugby Championship has been supported by the inconsistency of Argentina’s semi-attacks. The South Africans have fought an average of 0.86 tackles to neutralise an Argentina carrie and this is the best ratio in Rugby Championship so far.
The Springboks’ physicality has gained the most metres from the point of first contact between attacker and defender. The ratios expose the 4.5 carries needed to defeat a defender, and is only beaten by the All Blacks based on a lighter but more versatile forward pack for the duel.
The gain in additional post contact metres is approximately two metres in South Africa and is due to the weight of the pack (934 kg Avg) and the particular dexterity for contact used by the forwards. This structures the South African semi-attack into something powerful, incisive and without too much lateral play, which weakens its continuity towards the creative 10-12 axis.
But South Africa’s kicking game has proven effective and deadly in attack. Argentina suffered a bombardment in Rd.1, systematically executed from the 22 metres of South Africa bound for the ten-metre line inside the Argentine field, where 43per cent of the kicks (Box and Up and under) were not contained by Argentina’s defensive ‘pendulum’ (10, 15 and 11).
The Boks pack is today one of the most experienced in the world and led Argentina to three scrum penalties while maintaining 100 per cent effectiveness.
We can say the same about the lineout, where despite having lost four they maintained their 86 per cent effectiveness with Lood De Jager and Franco Mostert in command.
How could the All Blacks dismantle the South African machine and how could it neutralise the defence model? I think the best way would be to shore up their strengths in attack and defence.
In attack, excellence in speed decision-making could be enhanced if they manage to combine control and ball delivery in the ruck (-3 seconds) to overcome the Springboks’ defensive circulation and generate spaces at the ends of the field.
New Zealand routinely employs 7.5 average carries to get within 22 metres of the opponent and that speaks to the fluidity of their phase play, although in Bledisloe they have shown lateralisation and little penetration.
In defence, New Zealand are more undisciplined than South Africa (27 accumulated penalties versus AUS) but just as effective. We will have to wait for the physical reaction of the New Zealand defensive pack throughout the 80 minutes.
In a world where defences outweigh attacks, the least defeated defence and the most effective attack will once again make their case at Rugby Championship.