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Boks must add 'street smarts' to courageous coup de main

OPINION: A street-smart approach to the breakdown will maximise the Springboks’ burgeoning attack in the second Test against Ireland in Durban this Saturday.

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Those who were at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday will tell you that the series opener exceeded all expectations.

The Loftus crowd delivered a powerful rendition of the national anthem, while the Boks employed a bold new attacking strategy.

In the end, the hosts recorded a 27-20 win to snap a three-game losing streak against Ireland.

For years to come, fans may remember that emotional buildup and what followed shortly after kickoff.

The Bok attack hit Ireland with a lightning-fast approach that led to several linebreaks.

While the ball-carrying was as powerful as ever, the organisation of the attack and the speed of delivery between phases was a new sight to behold.

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And for the better part of three minutes, Ireland had no answer.

The Boks varied their first receivers and strike runners.

Forwards as well as backs were tasked with throwing pull-back and tip-on passes to create space in the outside channels.

Kurt-Lee Arendse’s finish was the exclamation mark to a rousing statement: the Boks have a brand new bag.

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What came next, however, transformed the free-flowing spectacle into an absolute dogfight.

Ireland flooded the breakdowns, and succeeded in slowing the speed of the Boks’ recycle.

The Boks continued to push the tempo and throw flat, speculative passes, but without the necessarily gainline advantage and quick ruck ball, they struggled to make many dents in the Irish defence.

It’s tempting to focus on the flashes of brilliance in that game: namely the opening three minutes, Cheslin Kolbe’s otherworldly piece of opportunism, and even the nuclear scrum that earned the hosts a penalty try.

But for much of the of the contest, Ireland adapted to the challenge posed by the Boks at the set pieces and breakdowns and kept South Africa’s attack in check.

In the immediate aftermath of the first Test at Loftus, Pieter-Steph du Toit admitted that Ireland had won the breakdown battle.

The flank also revealed that the coaches intended to spend the better part of the next few days analysing what went wrong.

Less than 48 hours later, attack coach Tony Brown fronted the media at the team’s plush hotel in Umhlanga.

Brown described the Loftus contest as “messy rugby”, but was encouraged by what he saw from the attack, which he believes will continue to develop as the season unfolds.

On several occasions, Brown reiterated that the Boks are looking to harness their traditional physical strengths and, once they have gathered the necessary momentum, move the ball into space.

Last Saturday, Ireland stopped the Boks at source and effectively killed the hosts’ momentum.

That final scrum aside, Ireland neutralised the Boks’ strength at this set piece and even managed to win a penalty of their own.

The Boks are still looking for clarity around some of those scrum decisions, to adapt ahead of the next battle in Durban.

The line-out hasn’t been as influential as expected, and Ireland has stripped the Boks of yet another favourite weapon: the rolling maul.

Onto the breakdown. Josh van der Vlier and Caelan Doris were the chief disruptors for Ireland, while Kwagga Smith and Malcolm Marx made several timely interventions for the hosts.

There were plenty of breakdown turnovers, yet relatively few penalties were awarded for a scrap of this nature.

A lot of the time, referee Luke Pearce was happy to let the battle unfold.

Perhaps this is what Erasmus really wanted: Ireland expending their energy at the contact point for 50 minutes, before South Africa unleashed six fresh forwards from the bench.

The altitude, and its strength-sapping impact on the Irish, may also have factored into this strategy.

One wonders if the Boks will vary their tactics a bit more in Durban, after going toe to toe with the attack-minded Irish in Pretoria.

Ireland (21) actually kicked more than the Boks (20) in Pretoria.

The hosts earned some reward with a couple of regathered kicks in the second stanza, but they certainly didn’t overplay the box-kicking strategy that has been so effective in preceding seasons.

Perhaps the Boks will play with more balance this week, switching between the new ball-in-hand approach and the kick-chase strategy.

As ever, they will attempt to attack their opponents at the set pieces from the outset.

While Ireland have managed to neutralise the Boks in the past, they are coming to the end of a long season, and are set to lose several more players to injury in the wake of the Loftus Test.

If the Boks manage to dominate the set pieces and gainline, they will surely pursue the Tony Brown approach and attempt to blow Ireland away via a more expansive game.

But if Ireland continues to meet the challenge at the set pieces and continues to attack the breakdown, the Boks may look to their kicking game to create contestables and ultimately scoring chances from broken play.

The players have their work cut out for them, as do the coaches in preparing for yet another test of brain and brawn.

Ireland showed their ability to adapt at Loftus, and now it’s up to the Boks to respond at Kings Park.

@rugby365com

* Picture credit: Suresh Rajcoomar

In this episode of Walk the Talk, Jim Hamilton chats with double World Cup winner Damian de Allende about all things Springbok rugby, including RWC2023 and the upcoming Ireland series. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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