Breakdown battle lines drawn

Johann van Graan (Gallo Images)
Johann van Graan (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - The breakdown will be a key area when the Springboks take on the All Blacks in their Rugby Championship title decider at Ellis Park on Saturday, Springbok forward coach Johann van Graan said.

While the Springboks had improved tremendously in this area, the possible return of the All Blacks’ breakdown specialist and captain Richie McCaw would add another dimension to the battle.

"Both teams are very good at the breakdowns on attack and defence.

"After scrums, it is where the most penalties are conceded," Van Graan said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

"Any team in the world would like quick ball and, as we’ve shown this weekend, if we get quick ball we are a very dangerous team."

Van Graan said the Boks’ improvements were down to a change in the way they approached the breakdown.

"We’ve made a change in mentality that all 23 players must be able to make the right decision at the breakdown," he said.

"Even if you look at the weekend, when a guy like Gurthro (Steenkamp) and Jean (De Villiers) start stealing ball, that is where you want to be."

He said the Boks managed to win eight turnovers in defence against the All Blacks in their previous Test in Auckland, and had also been good on their own ball.

"Attack-wise we had exactly 100 breakdowns on our ball and we managed to win 96 of those, so that is quite good but we want to aim for 100%," Van Graan added.

He also emphasised the importance of discipline after their two previous matches had been severely affected by referees who dished out yellow cards.

The previous match between the two traditional foes was marred by controversial refereeing from Frenchman Romain Poite when he brandished two yellow cards to Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis.

Effectively, they played 50 minutes with only 14 men when Du Plessis was shown a red card in the 42nd minute.

Last weekend, Flip van der Merwe and Duane Vermeulen were also shown yellow cards, which had an adverse effect on their momentum against the Wallabies in Cape Town.

"The message is always the same.

"We want to keep improving on our discipline and as few penalties as possible.

"In the last three Tests, we conceded fewer penalties than our opposition.

"There were some incidents where we were unfortunate and some where we have got to take a hard look at ourselves."

While Saturday’s Welsh referee Nigel Owens was a familiar face, Van Graan said they would still need to adapt to the way he controlled the game.

"We had Nigel for two matches last year - in Perth against Australia and England at Twickenham - so we know what he is about.

"He is one of the world’s best referees.

"Once you get onto the field, you can’t control anything.

"You just have to adapt and we have every confidence in him."

He said the referee’s performance was also dependent on the way the teams approached the game.

"Both teams have shown that we like playing open, attacking rugby... it is easier for the referee, but I can assure you Saturday will be a dogfight."

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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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