Bok breakdown the big worry

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)

Cape Town - In two Tests, the Boks have coughed up 19 turnovers to the three from the Irish. Amongst the plethora of stats that point to the Boks being caught between game plans, this stat is perhaps the most alarming.

Scrums, lineouts, kick-ins and defence remain key components of the game, but it’s the breakdown that has become fundamental to the modern game.

It is influenced, and has influence on, every facet of the game, and has become a true science.

Take England’s win over the Aussies last weekend. Deserved praise for their heroic defence, but by having to commit only one or two players to every breakdown, they were gifted a 13 or 14 man defence that was almost impenetrable given that the Aussies were needing three or four players to secure the ball.

Or what about players approaching an attacking breakdown? Do they look for an attempted offload, clean the opposition tackler, or watch out for the attempted chest tackle that would set up a maul and thus turnover ball? Every line and body position is different.

And while you get attacking and defensive scrums and lineouts, the mechanics remain fairly similar. The breakdown, though, is almost a different sport on attack and defence... and hugely influenced by the game you want to play. If asking players to play for the offload, does that leave you vulnerable to the turnover on the ground if it goes wrong?

On defence, it’s often about the type of tackle made. An aggressive tackle that smashes the ball carrier back has more chance of affording you the steal - or at least not having to over commit players. A passive tackle not only allows the opposition to get over all important gain line, but also offers them many more options while in the tackle.

Most of the ball coughed up by the Boks seemed to be as a result of a poor body position from players going into contact, but given the above, could this perhaps be as a result of not knowing their exact role when heading into the tackle?

And while it’s easy to point a finger at having no out and out fetcher in the side (something that really bothers me), the modern day breakdown has become a sport the whole team not only can, but must, play.

At this all important juncture in South African rugby, was it really the right time to get rid of specialist breakdown coach Richie Gray? Scotland coach Vern Cotter wasted no time in adding him to his staff as a defensive contact specialist.

Instead the Boks seem to have multiple voices having a say in this all important facet of play. Matt Proudfoot is officially in charge of the breakdown, but also has the scrums and all points of contact to worry about. Johann van Graan is in charge of all team attack and lineout play, Mzwandile Stick runs the backs, while Jacques Nienaber is the minister of defence.

What happens when Stick wants to implement an offloading game, while Proudfoot has the guys looking to clean, and Van Graan is planning a strike move that requires a static pod set up off a one-off runner?

I am not saying this is happening, but I have never seen Siya Kolisi have such an iffy game as the one he had at Ellis Park, especially going into contact. He is factually a better player than that.

The 19 turnovers as a result of an indecisive breakdown speaks to the Boks being caught between game plans, and one has to wonder if there are perhaps too many cooks in that kitchen?

Tank Lanning is a former Western Province prop and vociferous tweeter from @frontrowgrunt.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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