Boks braced for breakdown war

Johannesburg - South Africa may have won the 2013 battle of the breakdown but the Springboks will have to win the impending war as they prepare for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

Springbok breakdown coach Richie Gray said the team were the top breakdown team in the world last year, but the chasing pack were making up ground.

"The breakdowns are becoming more of a war every year, last year every single time you look at the newspaper it is the battle of the breakdown," Gray said.

"This year it is going to lift it again, looking at Super Rugby, I think the Australians have made a step forward there.

"Everybody has put more importance on it every year building towards the World Cup."

Gray experienced a fruitful initial stint as consultant last year and has been added on a permanent basis due to the importance of this facet of play.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has spoken at length at the amount of tries his side had scored over the last two years, which related closely to establishing quick ball.

The ruck area has evolved into possibly the most important area in modern rugby and teams are paying increased attention to this aspect of play.

"Anything that happens a 140 times approximately in a game has got to be important, attacking and defensive breakdowns have played a massive part [in] where the games are going to end up," Gray said.

"And you've got to be dominant and accurate there, so every team is putting more onus on that area."

Gray said the South African players had been receptive to his methods and have grown into the best breakdown team in the world.

"We started last year and I though I've made some good strides, but it is a three-year plan and that culminates next October (at the World Cup)," he said.

"If you take the Championship last year, we actually ranked on retention and turnover the best, but the difference at this level with New Zealand, Australia, ourselves, England... that top five or six times it comes down to one percent.

"We've got some phenomenal players in this country with great mentality, physicality and maybe getting more accurate is something we need to work on."

He said he was particularly impressed with the team's performance on the end-of-year tour in Europe, in conditions similar to what they would face during the World Cup.

"Looking back at the northern hemisphere tour, I was absolutely delighted with the way the players changed in a way to a northern hemisphere style of breakdown play," Gray said.

"Northern hemisphere style is an absolute war, there are bodies all over the place and you sometimes have to rely heavily on referees to keep an eye on it."

Although openside flanker Francois Louw has led South Africa's charge at the rucks, Gray believed it was rather the work of the collective that made the difference.

"When I work with players, I work with individuals then with the collective, sometimes simplicity is the best thing, the quicker and more accurate ball we can get, the quicker we can play," he said.

"The key is speed, accuracy but every single player has to be equipped with the correct techniques to do that.

"On the day you've got to be accurate, you've got to make the correct decisions, if you take the Championships stats from last year we were the best but you'll have teams trying to knock us off the spot every time we play."

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