VIDEO: How Boks can fix defensive frailties
It has been a constant refrain since last week’s demoralising loss to Australia, that South Africa ‘played too much rugby’ and moved away from what they do best – defend.
However, it is the team’s frailties on defence that is of a bigger concern than the Springboks’ inability be more creative.
Seasoned Springbok midfielder and defensive organiser Lukhanyo Am felt that they created enough opportunities last week, but failed to ‘convert’ those into points.
He said when they fell behind on the scoreboard and started chasing the game in Brisbane last week, it felt they were “rushing it” and did not stay composed.
“We were rushing things and looked a bit flustered,” Am said in the build-up to the historic 100th Test against New Zealand at the North Queensland Stadium, Townsville, on Saturday.
“It was a result of the scoreboard pressure,” the midfield said.
Statistics from the first four rounds of the Rugby Championship shows the Boks are a team that relies heavily on defence.
They have the lowest number of clean breaks from all four teams – just six from four matches, compared to the 35 by the All Blacks from the same number of games against the same opposition, Argentina and Australia.
The Boks also made the smallest number of carries and beat the fewest defenders.
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In the 26-28 loss to Australia on the Gold Coast, the Boks scored three maul tries, but did not make a single clean break from 60 carries.
Then, last week in the 17-30 loss in Brisbane, it went from bad to worse – just one try (scored by Am from a Francois de Klerk grubber) and one clean break from 62 carries.
However, it is on defence where you find the most significant stats.
In the first outing against the Wallabies, the signs were already there that the Boks’ normally sound defensive system is beginning to show cracks and leaks – with 21 missed tackles.
In Brisbane, the second encounter with the Aussies, the Boks missed 19 tackles – the tackle success rate dropping from around 80 percent to just 70 percent.
South Africa also conceded 10 turnovers, which is double the number they conceded in the Gold Coast encounter.
Am, 27, has been a mainstay in the Bok squad since his debut against Wales in Cardiff in December 2017.
He now has 21 caps, but it is in his role as a defensive organiser where he has been had the biggest impact.
While the defence has been one of the Boks’ strengths since the Jacques Nienaber-Rassie Erasmus combination took it over in 2018.
It even won a World Cup in 2019.
However, the past fortnight was clearly not up to the expected standards.
“Last week we lacked a bit of energy,” he said of the Brisbane meltdown.
“I don’t think defensively we need to change anything.
“All the tries cane from individual errors.
“It was not related to the [defence] system.”
He reiterated an earlier statement that New Zealand is dangerous and attack often from turnovers against an unstructured defence.
“We will have to be sharp – when we turn over a ball or knock on a ball, we have to kill it and get our defence organised.”