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Boks face defensive headache as Super Rugby teams falter

Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus speaks to the media at the Cape Town International Airport on 25 April 2018.
Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus speaks to the media at the Cape Town International Airport on 25 April 2018.
Image: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

As Rassie Erasmus’ tenure as Springbok coach moves from a concept to reality with his first Test as head coach less that a fortnight away‚ one aspect of the local game must have him worried stiff – defence.

Springbok and South African rugby has many flaws but generally‚ solid defence was one area that could reasonably be expected to create problems for the opposition.

But not anymore.

Currently‚ after round 14 of Super Rugby‚ the Sharks (352)‚ Bulls (350)‚ Stormers (356) and Lions (369) have all conceded 350 points or more.

The only teams that have conceded more points are the Sunwolves (421) and Blues (377).

Contrast that to the top New Zealand and Australian sides in the competition – the Crusaders (223)‚ Hurricanes (213)‚ Chiefs (242)‚ Highlanders (289)‚ Waratahs (274) and even the Brumbies (296) and it’s clear SA teams are way behind defensively.

Last year‚ at the same stage‚ the Lions had only conceded 251 points and the Sharks 266.

But both those hadn’t played NZ opposition because of the tournament structure.

But if you go back to 2016‚ when the Lions and Sharks faced NZ Teams in Pool play they had only conceded 284 and 193 points respectively.

In 2017 the Stormers and Bulls‚ up against NZ opposition in Pool play‚ struggled conceding 354 and 370 points after round 14. So they have remained consistently poor.

In general the graph has gone downwards for SA teams.

At national level the last two years have also been worrying in terms of defence.

Between 1891 and 2015 the Springboks historically conceded 1.53 tries per game.

In the post-isolation era from 1992-2015 the Boks conceded 484 tries in 278 games – or 1.75 tries per game.

In 2016 and 2017 the Boks conceded 68 tries in 25 Tests‚ or 2.72 per game. That is a huge increase‚ which coincides with a rapid decline in Super Rugby defences as well.

New Bok defence coach Jacques Nienaber‚ who was the mastermind behind the Stormers defence when they were the most miserly in the competition between 2010-13‚ will have his work cut out.

With little time to prepare‚ defence is going to have to come up to speed quickly.

“Our biggest focus is to assess what type of skill sets we have to work with‚” Nienaber said.

“If we have out and out ball poachers (such as Malcolm Marx before his injury) then you have to adapt your system to give them windows of opportunity to get to rucks first.

“It you have a Richie McCaw type player and you put him at the front of the lineout and tell him to defend the blind side‚ you would be wasting him.

“It would be better to take that type of player out of the lineout altogether and put him on the inside of the flyhalf even if it means you contest the lineout with fewer players.

“You will get more purchase by having him hitting rucks first‚ as often as possible.”

Winning the breakdown battle‚ almost always means winning the defensive battle.

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