As Rassie Erasmus and the Springboks arrived in Wellington, the pressure from back home had reached fever pitch. Playing the All Blacks is a high risk/ high reward prospect. Erasmus had one week’s preparation to accomplish a mammoth task – Beating the All Blacks at home.
If you had told me the Springboks would win this game beforehand, I would have been mildly surprised. If you had told me they would do it on 25% possession that mild surprise would have become hardened disbelief. A new and astonishing game-plan for beating Steve Hansen’s All Blacks would unfold that night. A game-plan that will have far-reaching implications long into the future.
Beating the All Blacks with a ‘Delay and Disrupt’ Game-plan
It’s no secret that the All Blacks game-plan hinges heavily on Aaron Smith’s world-beating passing game. By clearing their rucks in 2–3 seconds, the All Blacks pile pressure on their opponent’s defensive systems through shock and awe. Rassie Erasmus made delaying and disrupting the All Blacks quick ball objective number one. This started at the contact with strong ball-focused tackles.
The Springboks consistently wrapped up the All Blacks’ arms in the contact and used powerful leg drive to maintain the advantage line. This sets up the rest of their game-plan by taking the offload out of the equation. We know the All Blacks like 2–3 second ruck ball. But they will try and avoid rucks altogether by keeping the ball alive with off-loads – effectively creating zero second rucks.
The Springboks needed to draw the All Black’s into rucks that they could exploit, and the ball-focused tackles accomplished that mission.
How the Springboks’ ‘Long-Body’ positioning disrupted the All Blacks game-plan
Once the All Blacks had been drawn into attacking rucks, delaying and disrupting Aaron Smith was the next objective. Many teams would attempt to come through the ruck to do this, but the Springboks did it by manipulating body position. At many points in the game, the Springbok’s tacklers would stretch out right across Aaron Smith’s path at the base of the ruck. The objective was not to do anything malicious, but rather to turn what could have been a 2–3 second ruck into a 3–4 second ruck.
At this level the extra second is game-changing. The Springboks used these precious seconds to set up the aggressive defence this game will be remembered for. And many will associate that memory with one name. Faf de Klerk.
Faf de Klerk’s defensive domination
By using delay and disrupt tactics aggressively, the Springboks had already drawn the All Blacks into rucks and slowed them down. This helps explain why the All Blacks struggled with 75% possession. But it was how their no. 9 Faf de Klerk defended that struck the final nail in the coffin. de Klerk often didn’t defend like a normal halfback would by sitting behind the ruck. Erasmus instead used him out wider in the defensive line, which was a risk vs. reward calculation that paid off immensely.
Most notably de Klerk used his high-level defensive decision-making to shut down an All Blacks overlap early on. Watch this beautifully executed ball-focused tackle on Liam Squire.
He would also target Aaron Smith relentlessly, consequently piling pressure and obstruction onto the All Blacks game-plan.
With just a 2 point margin of victory for the Springboks, these moments truly swung the balance.
Will the 6 Nations produce the ‘delay and disrupt’ game-plan?
Let’s look ahead to the 6 Nations and the World Cup. It wouldn’t be crazy to assume that elements of the Springboks delay and disrupt game-plan will be used and expanded upon by the Northern Hemisphere nations. To win the World Cup, there’s a good chance you will have to beat the All Blacks at some point. England and Wales may not need to worry about that until a hypothetical final. In contrast, Ireland and Scotland could run into the men in black far earlier in the tournament.
The Springboks game-plan was built specifically for beating the All Blacks and their quick-ball. But it can also be reasonably effective against slower, structured systems as well. Ireland and Joe Schmidt have already used elements of delay and disrupt to beat the All Blacks last season, and it will be interesting to see which strategies each 6 Nations side reveal (or don’t reveal) with the World Cup on the horizon.
The 1014 Review the Springboks Beating the All Blacks
The 1014 Rugby reviewed the Springboks beating the All Blacks in significant detail over on their YouTube channel. See the following video for more information.
If the Six Nations teams do not employ a delay and disrupt game plan this year what will their tactics be? Let us know your thoughts.
Author: The 1014 Rugby and Henry Stokes