Mind Games: Local sides should kick Jake-ball into touch

2014-05-19 10:00

The Rugby Championship finale at Ellis Park last year between the Springboks and the All Blacks produced a test match for the ages – vibrant, pulsating, fluctuating: all-action rugby at its best.

Nine tries were scored but the tipping point was five to the All Blacks in a 38-27 victory for the Kiwis.

The Boks went into the match with an outside chance of snatching the championship. They had to win the match and had to score at least four tries for a bonus point while preventing the All Blacks from getting one themselves.

The All Blacks faced a more clear-cut task. Win and take the title or score four tries to earn the required bonus point.

It was a scenario that nudged the Boks out of their usual conservatism.

And with Bryan Habana on song, they proved that if need be they can play an attacking, expansive game with loose forwards Francois Louw and Duane

Vermeulen, and fly half Morné Steyn making passes hardly ever seen from the Boks. It was exhilarating to watch but there was just one problem – the All Blacks scored the first try of the match.

Habana crossed the try line for the next two but then, in the 21st minute, the men in black scored their second.

Their intention was clearly to say to the Boks: “We don’t care whether you win and score four tries because we are confident of scoring the four we need to secure the championship.”

The All Blacks were certain that if the Boks tried to play a wider, riskier game they would make mistakes and expose themselves to the greater all-round pace, skills and attacking instincts that set Kiwi rugby apart.

This attitude is key in the ongoing debate about the ponderous style of play manifest in most South African sides – never more evident than in the mind-numbing match between the Sharks and the Brumbies last week.

Contested between Jake White’s former side and his current team, the Aussies have coined a name for these tedious, kick-dominated, safety-first tactics: “Jake-ball”.

It is an approach that stifles adventure, borne out of a fear of losing rather than striving to win gloriously.

To play attacking rugby, you must want to attack. South African sides, by and large, want to defend.

And that’s where the New Zealanders have the jump on us. Whereas the Springboks, the Sharks, the Stormers and the Bulls might spend hours on perfecting ways of keeping the other team away from their try lines, the Kiwis expend a good deal of energy on getting over those lines.

As often demonstrated by the current Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs, it is about having boldness and audacity built into the way you play.

Players with flair are encouraged and those around them learn to expect and respond to moments of genius.

Whereas South African teams try stop the opposition from playing and prosper by removing obstacles, Kiwi teams aim to outwit or outflank would-be tacklers.

They work hard at backing up, at supporting the ball carrier, at getting greater numbers to the breakdown if it looks as though the ball might be lost and being alert to try-scoring chances.

It’s about the ball – having it, passing it, carrying it, keeping it and placing it over the whitewash – and it’s impossible if you keep kicking it away.

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