The McLook rugby collection

A personal collection that tells the story of Springbok rugby

Wales - Wellington 11/9/2011

See short match summary video here

South Africa 17 Wales 16

The Welsh team who played in this match can be seen in this video clip.

The South African team who played in this match can be seen in the clip below. 

 

A 64th-minute try to substitute Francois Hougaard and a bewildering penalty goal that was waved away allowed South Africa to begin its Rugby World Cup title defense with a 17-16 win over Wales.

South Africa was forced to draw on all of the experience signified by its record 815 test caps to post its 24th win in 26 test matches against a Welsh team which overcame an early try and a halftime deficit to lead 16-10 with 14 minutes remaining on Sunday.

Tonga-born backrower Toby Faletau scored his first test try to lift Wales to a six-point lead after 53 minutes before Hougaard scored and Morne Steyn added the conversion that clinched South Africa's win.

Fullback James Hook kicked three penalties and a conversion for Wales but debate swirled regarding a goal he was not awarded. His penalty attempt in the 14th minute, after a high tackle by J.P. Pietersen on Matt Phillips, appeared to pass between the uprights but was flagged away by the linesmen.

Hook's appeal for a review by the television match official was declined and the ruling assumed critical importance in a match decided by a single point.

South Africa had taken an early lead with a try to fullback Frans Steyn after only three minutes, converted from wide out by flyhalf Morne Steyn. Hook cut the lead to 7-3 with his first penalty after nine minutes and it was his second five minutes later which was surprisingly flagged away by assistant referees George Clancy of Ireland and Vinny Munro of New Zealand.

The kick, from about 38 meters to the left of the posts, appeared to curl inside the right-hand upright but the touch judges, who were well sighted quickly, ruled it had missed. It would have cut the lead to a single point and might have acted as a spur to a Welsh team rallying bravely after conceding from Steyn's early try.

"I thought that kick in the first half might have been pretty close,'' Wales coach Warran Gatland said. Francois Steyn said at halftime in the tunnel that he thought it went over. Those are the things that happen in sport.''

Gatland said Wales had other chances to seal the match, and his players "will just be devastated.''

"We had a chance: drop goal in front of the posts. Hooky had a chance to kick it. But that's the drama of sport,'' he said. "We'll just take that on the chin; we've got a bonus point out of it. We can take a massive amount of positives out of it in terms of territory and possession.''

Hook was successful with his third attempt at goal, after 30 minutes, but South Africa took a 10-6 lead to halftime. The Welsh fullback opened the scoring in the second half with his third penalty after nine minutes to cut the Springboks' lead to a point and to raise the spirits of a Welsh team which had gained surpluses of territory and possession in the first spell.

Led by their captain, the 22-year-old flanker Sam Warburton, Wales began to physically dominate the Springboks and to unleash some of the enterprise that seemed to set them apart from the more stolid South African team.

A first half of grudging defenses had produced 14 missed tackles but no clean linebreaks by either team. Finally, through the middle of the second half, Wales began to find gaps in South Africa's defensive line.

Tonga-born flanker Toby Faletau crashed through one of those in the 53rd minute to score his first test try in his fourth international and Hook converted to give Wales a 16-10 lead. Born at Tofoa in the Pacific Island kingdom of Tonga but now resident at Newport in Welsh rugby's heartland Faletau married the flair of his island heritage with the stoic fortitude of Wales.

He opened the Welsh defense twice more without profit before the Springboks were able to regain some small control of possession. From that foundation and from a sortee into Welsh territory, a penalty, a lineout and a ruck in front of the posts, they fashioned Hougaard's winning try.

"We came so close. We've been quietly confident all week, but just came up short,'' Warburton said. "We're bitterly disappointed we didn't get the win but shows we're getting closer.''

Springboks coach Peter de Villiers described the match as "a great test of character'' and captain John Smit commended Wales for fully stretching his team in the 400th test in South Africa's history. Smit marked his own milestone, as captain of South Africa for a record 80th time in his 107th test match.

"Wales played some good rugby, they kept us in their half so we couldn't really get a chance to play ourselves into this game,'' he said. "So when we got a chance, luckily we took it. But I tell you what, close game nice to get through it.”

"The nerves for this game were unbelievable. I think it had a lot to do with our build-up, how we left (South Africa), the pressure and what it meant to this pool. The greatest reward was that we came through by a point and will be a most valuable lesson for us, again fighting our way back from a pretty sticky situation.''

South Africa 17 (Francois Steyn, Francois Hougaard tries; Morne Steyn 2 conversions, penalty) def. Wales 16 (Toby Faletau try; James Hook conversion, 3 penalties). HT: 10-6.

 

South Africa started of with a hiss and a roar. The forwards drove well with the ball and they strung in couple of fast phases. This picture shows Jannie du Plessis on the charge.

 

Jacque Fourie spun out of a tackle and made some good yardage to set-up the firts try within 3 minutes after the kick-off.

 

Frans Steyn was the man who scored for the Springboks after a good flat skip-pass by Morné Steyn.

 

This picture shows Matfield in the lineout. Matfiled picked-up a hamstring strain and left the field in the second half.

Sam Warburton the Welsh No7 and captain was the man of the match.He had a massive game and were responsible for two turnovers at a crucial time in the match.

 

Schalk Burger shown here with ball in hand was massive on defence, making big tackles; forcing the Welsh players back in defence.

 

Fourie du Preez had a day from hell. The Springboks just didn't have enough structure and speed at the breakdown and that culminated in Fourie du Preez under extreme pressure and not able to have any influence on the game.

 

Toby Faletau scored Wales' try in the second half after receiving a very suspicious looking pass from his No10.

Francios Hougaard was very lively after he came on as a replacement for Brain Habana late in the second half. Hougaard scored SA second try after some very good running onto the ball from depth by him, Willem Alberts, Danie Rossouw with good off the ball work by Guthro Steenkamp and Bismarck du Plessis.

Analysis of the match 

South Africa started the match well throwing the ball around and setting up some good phases with the result that Frans Steyn scored South Africa's first try within the first 3 minutes after commencement of this historic match between SA and Wales (the first between these two nation in a RWC tournament and the second Pool D (so-called pool of death) match of the 2011 tournament). 

See the first Springbok try in the clip below.

Wales, howver, soon took control of the ball and one could not help but to feel for Wales afterwards as they were outstanding in this match. As a Springbok supporter I got pretty upset with the Springboks as the match progressed but in retrospective I have the give credit to Warren Gatland and his Welsh side. 

I had some sort of an Aha moment during this game in the sense that I developed a deeper appreciation of the impact of the new rule interpretation on the game. The most important thing of the modern game is structure at the breakdown. The emphasis has shifted from set piece to the breakdown. Where previously forward dominance was dependent on structure at set piece forward dominance now depends on structure at the breakdowns. 

If you’re good enough at the breakdowns you can control the ball for 80% + of the game essentially taking the opposition out of the match. The new rules interpretation makes it very hard for a defending team to force a turnover against a team with refined cohesiveness and structure at the breakdowns. It also means that if your team does not have structure and cohesiveness (group awareness and synchronicity) at the breakdowns you are not going to be in the match. 

It’s all about micro skills at the collisions and with flat defensive lines it’s about having dummy runners, using flat and delayed passes as well as blockers and off-loads to shoulder runners on attack. On defence it’s about isolating the ball carrier or dislodging the ball by tackling in on the arms. 

We rely too much on Brussow to create turnovers and should work more in groups to isolate ball carriers and create turnovers. Secondly our supportive runners are either too late or to flat (over running the ball carrier) when we take the ball up. Wales were very good in getting between supportive runners and the ball carrier once the ball carrier breaks through the defensive line. Basically if you miss a tackle move or fall into the line off the oppositions’ supporting runners. Also if you tackle in on a ball carrier try and get your body between the ball carrier and the incoming traffic. This allows your team mates to get their hands on the ball.

Wales totally dominated possession in this match. They didn't do much with the ball but their technique at the tackle area was so good that South Africa just could not get their hands on the ball.

The next clip is a short slow motion video showing Wales at the breakdowns. Notice the low body positions as they go into contact as well as the depth, numbers and speed of the support. The South Africa tackling was fierce and they normally forced Wales to a standstill by the second or third recycle. Wales would then spread the ball and either grubber the ball for territory or start rucking it up again at another point.  

One of the reasons why SA could not create turnovers is because of the high first time tackles. Notice the high tackles and poor body positions by Spies and Burger as they tackle and enter the rucks at the start of this clip. 

Contrast now South Africa at the breakdowns at the breakdowns. This clip explains to a large extent why the Springboks couldn't get into the game.

Fourie du Preez brings the ball up after a kick and transfers the ball to Matfield who go to ground with reasonable support. The Springboks recycle and du Preez sends it wide. Morné Steyn then for a reason only known to him decides to charge into the forwards with a 1 man overlap on his outside.

There is absolutely no reason, I can see, why this ball could not have gone to the wing. Steyn, however, in his wisdom decides not pass the ball and charge right into Brussow's back (which is actually obstruction). Brussow starts off by doing the right thing namely acting as a blocker. Spies takes two players out but Brussow stops playing forward and move backwards to try bridge over the ball. He gets pushed out of the way. Beast is too late and to high as he enter the ruck and the Welsh No13 charge right through the ruck and kick the ball through were the situation is saved by Frans Steyn.

There is no collective understanding at the rucks in this Springbok team and combine that with poor decision making and one can understand why the Springboks are so utterly useless at the breakdowns.

Where teams have previously spent hours to refine line-out and scrum cohesiveness the emphasis have clearly shifted to the breakdowns. Micros skills for the breakdowns on attack and defence are different and just learning or rehearsing what you need to do when you tackle or get tackled is not enough for the modern game. Once the micro skills have been rehearsed (for defence and attack) team drills at faster and faster pace and with variety in how they challenge the players need to be done in order to develop group awareness and synchronicity at the tackle area. 

The Springboks problem in this game was clearly that they were behind the ball game in this area of the game. 

My two main observations during this game were firstly, that most of the tries was scored from off-loads (not the SA v Wales match but in most of the other matches) and secondly that the gap between the minors and the majors have narrowed. The gap have narrowed because if you can hold onto the ball (have structure at the break downs) you can get into the game and essentially take the opposition out of the match. Tonga was able to derail the New Zealand run-away in the second half by getting their hands on the ball and just hanging onto it. Japan had a belter against France while England looked out of sorts against Argentina for the same reason namely Japan and Argentina being able to hold onto the ball and draw France and England into trench warfare. 

One gets the distinct impression that the media don’t always appreciate how much the game has changed and what the impact of the new rule interpretation is on the game. French coach Lievremont was interrogated by the French media (see here) while Martin Johnson tried to silence his media with some pragmatic remarks about winning is all that matters (see here). The new word in the rugby articles of New Zealand rugby scribes is ‘bumble’; everyone (that is France, England, South Africa) bumbled on the weekend. This is clearly rugby scribes that don’t fully appreciate how minor teams use the new rule interpretation to play ‘negative’ rugby disguised as attacking phase rugby. 

A consequence of the new breakdown interpretation is that minor team now draw strong opposition into a phase after phase breakdown contest because it flattens the defensive line and make it harder for the better teams to run around them or to punch holes in the defensive line. Where the backline have 5 meters space at the scrum and line-out that space is cramped in to nothing once you go into phase play.  

Everyone rave at the moment about Wales and how good they were against the Springboks but to be frank it was mostly flap flap stuff. Considering the amount of possession they had there were only one or two occasions during the entire match where they actually looked like they could score a try. 

Why? 

Because you can’t score tries with flat ball. What you do accomplish is that you succeed in taking the opposition out of the game by holding on to the ball. It is a ‘positive’ form of negative rugby. I don’t like it. If I want to watch flap flap flat defence line trench warfare I’ll watch league. 

South Africa had the ball for only about 21 minutes of the whole match and looked dangerous every time they had the ball. In fact we would have given Wales a good old thumping if we had better structure and cohesiveness at the breakdown.  Why did we look more dangerous? We run the ball up from set piece and therefore are better able to either punch holes and/or create space out wide than Wales. 

This is in essence the difference between the All Blacks and most other teams. The All Blacks play from set piece. They have starter moves from set piece and do not play flap flap league hybrid ball recycle rugby. They attack from depth with starter moves from line-out and scrums using decoy runners. When they recycle they use a system of punching holes with loose forwards or their big centres running from depth onto the ball and then off-load. 

Australia does the same thing and they gave Italy a thumping in the second half because they started to run from depth with speed onto flat lying Cooper and/or Genia either sniping around the fringes or drifting sideways to draw defenders out of line before shifting the ball to angled runners coming with speed from deep onto the ball. 

South Africa got drawn into the flap flap flat lying trench warfare by Wales and lost their momentum. Alberts, Hougaard and Bismarck made impact because they came on and started running from depth onto ball.  

I was disappointed in the boks performance on the weekend but believe they are on the right track. They need to speed up the support at the tackle area and make sure they support in numbers and from depth (so that they don’t over run the ball carriers). We had two turnovers against us at crucial times in the match and both of them were due to the first support player(s) being to flat essentially over running the ball carrier as he goes to ground and secondly the next wave of support players arriving too late. 

The ball carriers also went into the contact to upright trying to force his way through the tackle instead of being patient, going in lower and just placing the ball. 

Lastly I believe the Springboks need to keep working on starter moves and run the ball from set piece with decoy runners. Once they get into a trench warfare situation it might be a better option to kick the ball into space –for instance after two or three recycles or when you don’t get fast front-foot-ball anymore. 

The box kick is not the best option in such instances the trend -used by New Zealand, Australia and by Wales on the weekend- is to use a flat low grubber into space forcing the defenders to turn around. Wales scored their third penalty as well as their try after just such low tactical kicks which forced our wings and fullback to turn around and race to the ball with attackers breathing into their necks. It a lot harder to field those ball than a high box kick because with a box kick the defender waits for the ball and he normally have players firstly that position themselves between him and the incoming traffic and secondly that stand and wait so that he can shift the ball away from the contact point swiftly or who can blow-over to secure the ball if he gets tackled. 

The next video show the Wales try in this 2011 RWC match between SA and Wales. The try starts at a linout which resulted from a clever stab through grubber behind the South African left wing, Wales wins the ball well in the lineout with very little challenging by the South African locks. There is also no pressure on the halfback and Wales has enough time to spread the ball wide.  

The try is actually produced by Jamie Roberts charging in on Morné Steyn taking him meters back, Wales recycle quickly and Wales No10 delay his pass before shifting the ball to Toby Faletau the No8 who come in on an angle to take a suspiciously flat pass and with Jacque Fourie out of line due to the delayed pass and the running angle taken of the Welsh No8. Wales consequently had no problems getting over the line. 

 

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