Tries, not defence, win competitions

It’s a new Super Rugby season but things are still very much the same, with teams from New Zealand providing the bulk of the entertainment.

The competition is still in its nascent stage, which means that teams have to adjust to tough tours and pastings away from home.

And it’s in the back division where, again, the wheat is being separated from the chaff.

Defence is the bedrock of any championship-winning team, but tries ultimately win tournaments.

The Stormers are a perfect example of a team whose defensive strength exposes their attacking deficiencies.

Their wall wasn’t breached by the Sharks last week but they created nothing at the other side of the paddock to trouble their opponents.

South African rugby has always had a forward-based approach.

If effective, it can prove deadly, but at what cost to spectator interest and entertainment, and skills development?

Skill does not seem to be a prerogative of local coaches at the grassroots level, and it is now hurting teams at the top.

In New Zealand, the skill factor gets hammered into players to the extent where it becomes second nature.

All facets of the game then fall into place and it pays off.

Teams like the Blues and the Chiefs mix substance with style, as their recent bonus-point victories have shown.

Although the Bulls have achieved the same, it wasn’t done in an attractive manner.

It is ironic that a New Zealander in Southern Kings’ coach Matt Sexton defends “boring rugby”, but does it not hide the fact that South African teams score less tries and, in doing so, fail to entertain?

Last year, the New Zealand contingent scored more tries and conceded less compared to South Africa.

Glaringly, New Zealand teams breached the try line 20 more times than their South African counterparts did against them.

The Sharks and Cheetahs were the main benefactors but the latter had twice met the Chiefs, who punctured them six times in two matches.

It also fits the bill that the Cheetahs have the most exciting, yet porous, backline.

The Sharks failed to cross the whitewash in their knockout clash as well as in the final, which they lost heavily to the freewheeling Chiefs.

Loosening up in defence definitely has a role to play in producing entertaining, running rugby; and the approach adopted by most South African Super Rugby teams has proved to be ropy in spite of popular opinion.

Skilled backlines and players will always find ways to unlock even the strongest of defences, and that will win competitions.

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