Breakdown: Baie, baie, baie belangrik
COACH'S VIEW: With his distinctive, broad Scottish accent Richard Gray made his point about the importance of the breakdown in winning games.
With his distinctive, broad Scottish accent Richard Gray made his point about the importance of the breakdown in winning games.
It nearly brought the house down, but the attempt by the Springboks' breakdown mentor to address the local media in Afrikaans had the desired impact.
They listened to what he had to say and he made some very valid points.
The Scotsman said that while South Africa won the 2013 battle of the breakdown, the Boks will need to win an even bigger "war" this year if they were to end a four-year drought in the Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations tournament.
Gray, speaking ahead of the opening round and an encounter with Argentina in Pretoria next Saturday, felt the other teams will be determined to turn the Boks' strength into a weakness.
"The breakdowns are becoming more of a war every year,"Gray told a media scrum at the team's training base in Johannesburg.
"It was funny last year, every single time you looked at a newspaper it is 'the battle of the breakdown'.
"Every single country we went to it was: 'Battle of the breakdown, battle of the breakdown'.
This year it is going to lift it again," he said, adding: "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."
The Boks' assistant coach said anything that happens, approximately, 140 times in a game is going to be important.
"Attacking and defensive breakdowns will play a massive part [in] where the games are going to end up. You've got to be dominant and accurate there, so every team is putting more onus on that area."
He said South Africa made some good strides last year, but felt it is a three-year plan that will culminate at the World Cup next October.
He said South Africa have some "phenomenal" players, which makes his job easier.
"[They have] a great mentality, physicality and maybe getting more accurate is something we need to work on.
"- I have worked with a lot of teams over the years and you have to come up with a plan that is correct for that group of players. I have a plan for this team. I have worked with other teams in the past where you do things differently, because there were different strengths and weaknesses. But I am happy with the plan we have at the moment.
"However, with the breakdown you sometimes tweak it from week to week, depending on what you see other teams doing.
"We want to try and lead, we don't want to always follow."
He also spoke of the "massive amount" of analysis they do on every part of the game and said it is literally an ongoing plan in the breakdown."
Her still rates the Boks as the world's best breakdown unit, but felt they will need to work hard to stay there.
"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 sides at times it comes down to one percent.
"On the day you have to be technically spot on, accurate and make the correct decisions.
"If you take the Championship stats from last year, we were the best. However, we will have teams trying to knock us off every time we play."
He said he was delighted with the way the players adapted Northern Hemisphere style of breakdown play on the 2013 year-end tour.
"The Northern Hemisphere style is an absolute war, there are bodies all over the place, there's players rolling out on our side and you sometimes have to rely heavily on referees to keep an eye on it.
"They [refs] have a huge part to play and I sometimes feel a bit sorry for them at the breakdown, because there are so many things going on.
"I am happy with where we were at the end of the June Tests, but we are going to come across different style [in the Rugby Championship].
"Argentina are known for low tackles, flooding the breakdown and making it difficult for you. Australia and New Zealand have their own styles as well.
"It will be a war this year, guaranteed, full-on."
He added that when he works with players, he works with individuals first then with the collective.
"Sometimes simplicity is the best thing, the quicker and more accurate ball we can get, the quicker we can play - it is as simple as that.
"If the ball is held up in there your are always going to be running up against a brick wall.
"The key is speed, accuracy but every single player has to be equipped with the correct techniques to do that. Long gone are the days of a huge shoulder and just flying into a group of bodies.
"If you work hard on technique and have players that have the real desire, work hard to get better in that area, then you are on the right track.
"These players at the moment, everyone is on a mission - there is a real desperation in this group."