South African Super Rugby teams, on offense, are about as exciting to watch as late night poker on television. Quite worryingly for South African rugby that except for the Lions, there is very little to no creativity on offense, it is all very much headbang, crash ball rugby.
When you compare South African teams winning ratio against Australian opposition and New Zealand opposition, you get an interesting picture. Unsurprisingly South African Super Rugby franchises have a much better, winning ratio against Australian opposition than they do against New Zealand opposition, with the same stat reflecting in the International rugby arena.
South African Offense – All Bully No Brains
The answer for the above is simple, South Africa’s primary weapon on offense is bullying the opposition into submission, it is not pretty but it works for them, most of the time. Very few teams are able to compete against the physicality of South African teams except for New Zealand franchises.
What happens when competing for set pieces, field position and overall physical dominance of the opposition does not work? Nothing, there is no fallback plan, hence, the superior record of New Zealand franchises against those of South Africa because they are one of the very few nations who can absorb that physicality while matching it with their own.
As rugby has evolved in recent years to a much more attacking game, where teams are much more willing to take chances on attack and play a ball in hand style of rugby, South Africa has been left lagging. I fear this gap will widen and South Africa might start to slip down the international world ranking list especially if you consider the state of our Super Rugby franchises on offensive play, combined with a defensive minded international coach.
South African Super Rugby Teams – Dead last on offensive stats
When examining the statistics and overall gameplay of South African Super Rugby franchises on offense it paints a bleak picture, the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks, while doing many things right, are all very close to an embarrassment on offense, this is especially true for the Bulls (no provincialism intended ) However, one can say the same for the Sharks, true they (the Sharks) are coming off a good win against the Hurricanes but the Sharks were generally dreadful on attack during their New Zealand tour.
One can literally see the effort and reluctance it takes for the Bulls, Sharks, and Stormers to spread the ball wide and the Super Rugby statistics reflects this. The Bulls are 4th last in the competition for clean breaks, followed by, surprise, surprise, the Sharks, Cheetahs, and Stormers. The Kings are dead last in the competition for clean breaks. All mentioned teams are in the range of 70 and 80 clean breaks for the competition with the top 3 spots all occupied by New Zealand teams having recorded 125-145 clean breaks until this far.
Offloads paint pretty much the same picture with the Stormers and Sharks finding them towards the bottom half of the ladder 4th and 5th last to be exact. Surprisingly the Bulls average more offloads per match than the Lions (1-more) and is ranked 8th in the competition for number of offloads with 101 (that’s averaging around 15 offloads per match) however, one has to take into consideration the quality of opposition the Bulls have played, in their last several games, with due respect. When some decent opposition was presented against the Brumbies, last week, they (the Bulls) got blown away.
So What Is The Reason For South Africa’s Inability To Play Creative Rugby?
Having grown up in South Africa, and played my fair share of rugby in South Africa I believe the inability for South African teams to play creative, attacking rugby is a combination of the wrong mentality and lack of proper skills being taught at grassroots level.
When looking at South African schoolboy rugby it is always the biggest boy on the team who is the star player, this is especially true at younger levels, with crash balls and tap and go’s being run off him. Forward play, and set pieces all gets drilled in from a young age. Very little, to no, attention is given to teaching forwards, and backs for that matter, the necessary handling and creativity skills even at, senior high school level.
As these players progress towards senior provincial level they have already been “brainwashed” and all creativity coached out of them. Thus, when provincial and international coaches try to make the switch in their game plan to try and play a more expansive game of rugby, you can literally see the confusion of the players.
SA rugby Traditional Strengths is not all bad
Being physical and playing field position is not all bad, it is a traditional strength of South African rugby, mostly because of the reasons listed above.
I believe you should not do away with your traditional strengths and what works for you, however, I do believe there is a balance that needs to be struck. The South African Rugby Union should invest more in equipping grassroots coaches with the necessary skills to coach skills and ball handling in conjunction with physicality. Thus, by the time South African players get to senior level, they will be much better equipped to play a balanced game of rugby, hopefully restoring South Africa to the pinnacle of world rugby again.