The Boks have lost only one match this year, the last test of the Lions series. In the other two games of that series the Lions were well and truly in it until the end and probably should have won the first test but for some diabolical handling errors.
By analysing the stats from those games that there is a clear pattern as to how to challenge the Boks, and maybe even beat them. Do the Wallabies have the troops to implement a similar game plan?
1 – Exploit the fatigue factor.
The last game of the Lions series has a few similarities to this weekends clash with the Wallabies. The Bokkies are coming off two hard fought wins and will no doubt be feeling a little jaded playing their third test in as many weeks. Once again the Boks face a primed opposition, much as they did after wrapping up the Lions series in the first two tests.
Comparing the Boks effective tackle percentage from the second test of the Lions series and the percentage from last weeks second test against the AB’s, they are both relatively poor at 79% and 77% respectively which perhaps points to tiredness and a lack of fitness.
When the Boks faced a refreshed Lions team in the third test, they were unable to produce the physical performance of previous weeks so this points to an opportunity for the Wallabies to at least match the Boks in this department.
2 – Kick long and play line-outs.
The AB’s showed how dangerous it is to play any rugby in your own half against the Boks and how relentless the Boks are at building pressure. Not only is kicking long important but also is making sure the kicks go into touch and not allow the Boks to run back at the line and return the kicks with interest.
The last game of the Lions series the Boks had 18 line-outs, the most of any game of that series by some distance. In that same game, the Boks only made 882 kicking metres compared to 1224 metres in the first test and 1194 metres in the second test.
In both games against the Boks, the AB’s were reluctant to kick the ball into touch, not wanting to take on the Bokke line-out. This tactic backfired as it allowed the Boks’ backs to kick on the run and launch the ball high thus being able to contest the catch. Consequently the Boks made well over 1100 kicking metres in both games thus trapping the AB’s in their own territory.
3 – Offload the ball.
The Lions win in the last test was based on their ability to move the ball quickly by offloading and not relying on winning the ball at the ruck. The Lions offloaded 15 times in that final test which was their most for the series and ran the Boks to a stand still.
The AB’s were not able to effectively exploit this aspect of the game and paid dearly with the Boks able to smash the ruck contest and slow the AB’s ball not allowing them any sort of momentum.
The Wallabies have started to develop an effective offload game so if they can execute this up-tempo style on the weekend, it will trouble the cumbersome Bokke tight-five defensively.
4 – Ball running forwards.
Looking at the stats from the final Lions test, it is amazing how many metres the Lions made from running the ball in close and from the pick and drive. The Lions made 172 mtrs in the final test compared with 108 metres and 101 metres from the first two tests.
The likes of Squeaky, Dick Brown, Kev Horwill and Cliffy must lead the way running at the 1st and 2nd channels of the Bok defence. Perhaps a case can also be made for the inclusion of Ben Alexander ahead of Le Fuse given that Alexander is by far the better ball runner. The fact that Le Fuse is damaged goods at the scrum may also be a factor, Justice 4 Al arm bands or not.
It is no coincidence the Lions were able to make 351 running metres out wide in the final test which was their best of the series by a considerable margin after punching holes in tight. The AB’s didn’t attempt to make ground in close anywhere as often as the Lions did and consequently never really looked like they were in the hunt in either game.
5 – Attack from depth off first phase
Throughout the Lions series it was obvious the in-roads the Lions were able to make by using decoy runners in mid-field and going wide. The Boks natural form of defence is to rush up at the inside backs so if the Wallabies can use some of the moves they showed in the early season games against the Italians and French, there will no doubt be opportunities.
This will be quite a challenge for the Wallabies as the key to this tactic will be securing decent ball from both the scrum and line-out but the likes of O’Driscoll, Tommie Bowe, Ricky Flutey and Conrad Smith were all able to expose the defensive frailties of the Boks outside backs in defence.