The KISS principle – “Keep it simple stupid”. That’s what breakdown specialist Richie Gray has been preaching to the Springboks this week.
Scottish import Gray, who’s been working with the Boks around perfecting the breakdown for most of the time since Heyneke Meyer became national coach, has played a major role in getting the Boks to the top of the pile in breakdown play. Meyer’s team led the stats in this regard last season, having a direct relation to the team scoring more tries than even the All Blacks in 2013.
Gray says his philosophy is simple. “You don’t want to make the breakdown too difficult or complicated. Players don’t need 10 to 15 things to think about in a ruck when it’s over in a matter of seconds. It’s about doing the key things well and executing correctly. Simplicity is best.”
Gray’s watchwords are “accuracy” and “decisions”, but also “quick ball”. If these things are in place then one is able to play attacking rugby and keep the opposition on the back foot.
“Quick ball is the best thing (in the game), before the opposition has had time to realign their defence. If you take three, four or five seconds too long you’re going to end up running into a brick wall,” says Gray. “You’ve got to be technically spot-on at the breakdown, be accurate in what you do and make the right decision.”
The Boks have made great strides in perfecting the breakdown, the most important area of the game, where fast recycled ball gives one options in attack.
It is an area that dominates every contest and the Boks are looking to improve even more in this department ahead of the Rugby Championship which kicks off next weekend. The opening match for the Boks is against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday.
“Anything that happens approximately 140 times in a game is important,” said Gray this week. “It’s an area that you have to dominate if you want to be successful.”
While South Africa, with Francois Louw and Bismarck du Plessis leading the way in breakdown steals, have become as effective as New Zealand, with Richie McCaw still among the top specialists, Gray says the breakdown battle is set to become even more intense as the teams build towards the World Cup next year.
“It’s becoming more of a war each year. Every time you opened a newspaper last year you read about the breakdown, but it’s just going to lift again this season.
“For ball retention and turn-overs won we ranked No1 in the Rugby Championship last year, but there’s really nothing between the top six teams in the world; probably a 1 percent difference.
“We’re still taking small steps to be the best, but to achieve that you need the right group of players and I believe we’ve got that.
“The physicality is there but the mentality is also great. Every player must be equipped with the technique to win back the ball, at speed and with accuracy. The days of flying into a group of bodies with a big shoulder are gone.”
Quick breakdown ball is, indeed, the key to the modern game. Meyer will certainly be hoping for more of the same in the coming weeks as he plots the downfall of Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. For without quality ruck ball, there’s little chance the Boks will be able to chase the four-try bonus point in games, something Meyer’s team will be seeking to do this season.
“We want to score tries, bag bonus points. We got the try-scoring right last year and in the June series, but we need to do that now in the Rugby Championship. The game is now quicker than before, there’s a lot of open, running rugby, and it’s played at a high tempo so we’re going to have to be skilful in everything we do.”
The Boks wrap up their week’s preparations in Joburg today before meeting up again next Monday in Pretoria ahead of the Argentina match. - The Star