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South Africa and Argentina Haunted by Fear Posted over 1 year ago

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Photo: Jeanfrancois Beausejour, Monaco

The greatest challenge to both South Africa and Argentina in their opening match of the Rugby Championship is to play without fear. Recent evidence suggests that such a leap may be beyond them. Both teams are utterly fearless in defence, but in possession they tend to travel down too many safe roads. They don’t crash and they don’t get very far.

South Africa have become way too predictable. Against England their pass to kick ratio was 3:1. When a team knows a kick is coming it is very easy to set the backfield and establish counter attacking opportunities.

Moreover the standard of South Africa’s kicking has deteriorated. It is a while since Morne Steyn has been at his best. And as he has struggled with his game, Steyn has dropped deeper and deeper, making it hard for his outside backs to function.

A big part of Steyn’s loss of form has to do with the absence of Fourie du Preez. The South African was the best kicking half back in the world. He would even drop off the number eight and kick-pass cross field to the wing. That threat opened up the space for Steyn to kick into.

But Derick Hougaard is nothing like as good a kicker as du Preez. He leans back on his box kicks and tends to sky them. The Bulls and South Africa have even developed an elongated ruck to try to give him more time.

But I have some sympathy for Hougaard. He is a running 9 and it is hard to attack from half back when the outside backs are coming forwards. The answer is to get Steyn to stand flatter. I had a similar conundrum with Paul Grayson at Northampton. But he is such a good ball player, that when I challenged Grayson to stand flatter, he did so to remarkable effect. Heyneke Meyer faces the same challenge.

Steyn has the courage and the coordination to run straight and use his hands. I would love to see Francois Steyn, jean de Villiers and the South African wings brought more into the game. The wings have great ability but they are chasing wings at the moment. Loyalty is a great part of South Africa’s current strength, but their wings must be getting tired of just playing a chasing game.

I would love to see Argentina open up a bit more and it will be fascinating to see whether Graham Henry has had any influence on that part of the game. They have a number of exciting runners developed through their sevens programme, but I wonder whether they will have the courage to use them.

Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Gonzalez Camacho and Horacio Agulla form a vibrant back three if they are given the license. But how will Jaun Martin Hernandez perform on his return to big time international rugby. He was a great footballer but we haven’t seen a lot of him in recent years.

Argentina were hugely competitive in the first half of our World Cup quarter final. They have one of the best defences in world rugby. But defence can only take you so far. I hope that Hernandez is given the same license to play that Dan Carter enjoys with the All Blacks. But I suspect a safety first approach is more likely.

The Boks and the Pumas are likely to grind teams down. That won’t be enough to win the Championship. Maybe they will prove me wrong. I hope so, because both teams have the players to do so much more.

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Richard Lambie was never use to control the game. They used Michelak and when he is not there they used their 9 Reinach.

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South Africa 12 months ago

Sorry that should be chase the game and not case the game in the 10th line!!!

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New Zealand over 1 year ago

Hi Wayne, great comments from a respected coach. I have no claim to being an expert in the technical side of the game. I was wondering though what your thoughts were regarding Lambie as a number 10 option for South Africa. I feel that he has all the skills necessary to be a great first five in future. He does appear to attack the gain line and asks questions of the defence. I was impressed with him in a weak Bok team which lost comprehensively against the All Blacks in the Tri-nations game in New Zealand last year. His inclusion would supposedly require a change in the patterns of play for the backline. Currently I get the feeling that if the boks have to case the game, they are unable to do so because of Morne’ Steyn’s positioning and that of the backs outside him. I know Steyn has tried to attack the gain line more by standing flatter at times but he doesn’t do it with any conviction. A penny for your thoughts????

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New Zealand over 1 year ago

Hi All. Thanks to Wayne for the awesome article.

Barnacle, I disagree with you on the point of Steyn standing flatter. He can do it but as you say it would need to come with another couple of significant changes to his play and SA playing patterns. This expectation of a continuous domination of contact is not how a 10 should ever play in my view. Flatter 10’s should have no need to dominate contact. If our backline is playing deep (and not getting away) because Morne needs to stand deep I think we are approaching our whole attack in the wrong way.

By Steyn standing flatter this would naturally require adjustment from all players around him. It would have to be practiced and hence would never happen in isolation. The reason why we discussing Steyn is because of the SA patterns of play which have been largely ineffective against top opposition since 2010. My question is why these same patterns are being used when they clearly are not working against top opposition? I wonder how our SA coaches justify this approach?

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South Africa over 1 year ago

I would have answered sooner, but just had a problem with login in…

Just to clarify a few points. Firstly I have no problem with the OPTION of attacking flatter OFTEN… It is in fact part of varying the points of attack, specifically to prevent the opposition from predicting accurately where the attack may occur. I do however not agree with the suggestion that “Steyn should stand flatter”, in isolation, and that will solve everything. The South African patterns of play is specifically set up in such a way that it makes it difficult for the 10 to run, because he then BECOMES isolated. That is also why I said Steyn is not dominant enough in contact for him to stand flat, while the rest of the possible support is 10 metres away at the time he goes into contact with three defenders basically on top of him (i.e. taking the current patterns of play into account)… The whole set up needs to change, and THAT is the coaching and patterns issue I mentioned.My problem was with that statement in isolation, because it does not give the full picture in terms of the SA patterns of play.

I also agree with most of the other comments that were made, but one still needs to be sure that you give the players the necessary support within the specific structure, because changing one thing alone may have worse results even though the intention was in fact the opposite.

In terms of the playing deeper, I agree fully with the “two” of maybe three metres would be sufficient, but that also fits in with the comments on the line being staggered and the timing of the runs, which then becomes much more important than the standing position. I wouldn’t be able to count how many times I’ve told my players after we practice a specific move, “deeper, two metres, just two metres”.

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South Africa over 1 year ago

Neville, I believe in backs being staggered I.e starting their run after the man inside them. You can actually go from a flat to deep alignment simply by letting the man on your inside depart first – presto, you are now deep! Holding jerseys is one way you can cue them, but they need understanding to really get it I.e why are we leaving later than the man inside? Some simple drills on my building a back line video will help. Getting them to move the ball into space e.g 4 attackers vs 3 defenders is a good way to understand depth. Vary the speed of the defenders from slow (the attackers can play flatter) to fast (more depth) will soon create some learning/understanding through doing. The best feedback re their alignment and timing will be getting the ball into the space effectively and scoring a try.

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New Zealand over 1 year ago

Just on your comment re: finding the balance between depth and time, I am struggling (or was, season’s over now) to get my schoolboy team to understand and apply it on the field during a game. What are some good ways to get that basic message across, so that they understand the need to be running on to the ball at pace, without arriving too early. At training I often stand behind them and hold their jersey until they get the timing right, which works fine at training… Are you saying they should all be moving off at the same time? and if so, how do I stop them from arriving too early and having to slow to a standstill or run sideways to receive the pass?

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New Zealand over 1 year ago

On a separate note Mr Smith….. I commented on the Adidas facebook page that the Pumas need a coach of your calibre (Sir Henry included). They have the talent : are ranked 8th and can reach last 8 of the World Cups. Besides getting a ‘Super Coach’ what else can they do to make themselves competitive for the Rugby Championship and not make them the punching bag where you can get easy points? From Saturday’s game l think they seemed to not be confident in their own ability or international test level skills. Any thoughts and would you take the job if approached by the Pumas?

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland over 1 year ago

By the way Barnacle, I disagree with your analysis of Hougaardt’s kicking. My job is based on empirical analysis, not just going with conventional wisdom. I like to be certain about things, and have done a lot of research on players’ tendencies. Hougaardt does not take two steps to box kick. He plants his leading foot (right foot) and takes one step to get on his left foot to execute the kick. Yes, he is a bit slow but to me, it is the recognition that he is going to kick which creates the greatest pressure on him. By giving certain cues away (I won’t go into what they are) he signals an intention to box kick. This in itself alerts fringe defenders who can put huge pressure on his kicking technique and force poor execution. This, aligned with his ball toss and backward lean makes him inconsistent as a kicker and led me to make the comments I did.

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New Zealand over 1 year ago

Great conversations here guys. Sorry about the Derek Hougaardt mix up – I hadn’t checked the copy. Also, there is a mistake in that I wanted to say it is hard to attack off 9 if the backs are not coming forward across the field. You can’t force defenders to make decisions if it is obvious who the ball carriers are. By bringing the whole attack line forward, you force defenders to mark up, come forward and you can generate an element of fatigue in the defence. It also avoids gang tackles on ball runners as there is more than one threat attacking the line. There are always different philosophies in the game – that is what’s great about it. For example, I totally disagree that wide attack can only occur off a deep standing back line. Sure, there has to be some increase in depth, but it needs to be set by the 10 with everyone else keeping their depth constant off him I.e if 10 steps back 2m, everyone steps back 2m and no more. That way, you keep the integrity of the line and timing of the pass which is critical. The issue with deep standing attacks is that they allow too much recovery time for defenders. That is the reason wings on the end of deep attacks are usually confronted by 2 or 3 defenders. Getting the depth right to ensure you fix your defender whilst also having space and time to pass and complete a move is essential. This takes understanding, scenario work at training and accurate execution in games. Also, you don’t need to be physical as a 10 to be a threat. It’s not about running through brick walls, it’s about challenging the line to threaten and shape the enemy defence. It’s also about learning from these plays – who is tackling whom, where is the space, which player is unmarked? Simply having players run off a 10 isn’t enough if that 10 doesn’t threaten the line from time to time. And, running off a deep 10 seldom gives you access to the gain line, whether your attack is close or wide. Lose the gain line and you lose the collision. Lose the collision, and you lose the opportunity to keep the ball alive or play off fast ruck ball. That’s the butterfly effect of having a back line with few threats running from overly deep positions!

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New Zealand over 1 year ago

Yes Bernacle my fellow South African you agree with most of our country man and especially Bulls supporters that he is not standing too deep. I have been saying this thing Wayne is talking about for ages and have been insulted and argued with from left right and center. Unfortunately there is too much provinsialism in the country which spoils judgement. Who do you support Bernacle? If you say Bulls then I would understand cause down there is the first thing they teach a 10 and that is to stand in the Naas Botha tunnel.

Steyn is too deep. Meyer brainwashed him and he is not going to change that unfortunately. Bullying the opposition with your pack might have worked for the Bulls years back but not in todays time. Not with a inexperience pack that struggle to secure ball or a line out. Not with players running away from their support. Daniels and his other Shark mates offloaded so nicely. But for the SA they look as big and dum as the Bulls guys.

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South Africa over 1 year ago

good article – good comments by Barnacle and Neville!

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Australia over 1 year ago

@ barnacle. Having your 1st five stand flat does not mean your whole backline has to stand flat – as your comment later on (re: ABs backs) backs up. Morne Steyn is capable of proving a threat with ball in hand, if Aaron Cruden (5’7" 11.5st) can expose and open up a defense, then Steyn (5’11 14st) certainly can too. As long as Steyn sits ‘in the pocket’ he will provide no threat with ball in hand. The midfield defense can ‘fix’ on their targets, and the back three and No8 can drop back to cover any kick, safe in the knowledge that all attacking threats are covered. A skeptical NZ public was won over by the idea of the flat backline over a decade ago. Your comments clearly show that you are an astute observer of the game. However, given that he has won everything there is to win in rugby, and he is universally acknowledged as the world’s greatest technical thinker of the game – I reckon he might know what he is talking about…

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New Zealand over 1 year ago

Great articule. Grieta comente by Barnacle too.

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Spain over 1 year ago

@Barnacle your views have made me look at rugby differently. Thank you for a brilliant review/comment.

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Great Britain & Northern Ireland over 1 year ago

I disagree with quite a few comments in this piece. Steyn has actually been playing flatter and flatter, but without any support runners. Firstly this means that if he runs, he gets isolated and it would be easier to turn over ball. Secondly, it means the defence is closer and the chances of getting the ball out wide is smaller. His play is “poor”, because he is trying to play like others are suggesting he should play.

It is common knowledge that if you play flat, you have to attack closer to the breakdown, because the defence have less space to cover to close you down on the outside. This means that by the time the ball reaches the outside backs, it is closed down already.

Morne does not have the physical presence to attack the gain-line himself and it is therefore much more important to set up support runners either side of him for OPTIONS. So instead of one risky option of a not very physical ten running at the gain-line, you have three options available. SA usually plays/ed channel one with a bunch of forwards or crash-ball at 12, but rarely used runners off 9 OR 10. (This is the major problem in terms of variation on attack.) This is much more of a coaching and patterns issue than it is a player issue.

The fact is however still that if you want to play wide, you have to align deeper. Even if you look at the All Blacks or any other team for that matter, you will see that when the ball goes wide successfully, and actually reaches the wing from set phase, that the line was standing deeper, so that the ball can beat the approaching defence. It also allows space to step into gaps and to change running lines. Something you can’t do when the defence is already on top of you…

Hougaardt on the other hand has a huge technical problem with his kicking in terms of the two backward steps he needs before kicking and secondly, he drops the ball from close to shoulder height and strikes it a considerable distance further down (close to knee height). Which means he has to wait for it before the kick. Those two delays make him one of the slowest box kickers in the world. I think even Stephen Hawking would be able to charge down his kicks. Just a bit of decent technical coaching and he should be fine too… The question is, “Have ANY of his current coaches picked up on those flaws?”

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South Africa over 1 year ago

Hey Wayne good article just one correction. It is Francios Hougaardt not Derrick. Derrick was cut in half by Brain Lima in 2003 lol

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South Africa over 1 year ago

_Graham Henry on Wayne Smith:_ "Wayne is the best coach I have ever coached with. He has a huge work ethic, does lots of research and has a great feel for the game. At the moment he is the defence coach and is also involved with our counter attacking strategy. He is a very thoughtful man and takes a major interest in how we use turnover ball. He has been going around with a little camera which he uses to track individual players for a whole game. It has proved quite embarrassing for some. There is nowhere to hide and the players soon learn where they have to step up. Top bloke."

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