In the two-year run-up to the Springboks’ World Cup victory, the side perfected and mastered a high-risk, high-energy defensive system under Rassie Erasmus and defense coach Jacques Nienaber. Euro 2020 fans can book Springboks Vs British And Irish Lions Tickets on our website on exclusively discounted prices.
Precariously placed heading into South Africa’s away game in Wellington back in 2018, Rassie Erasmus claimed he was under pressure and would quit if they lost, citing his record of never losing three matches in a row as a reason.
Their defense gave up 34 points in a wild and thrilling narrow victory, but it was that aggressive defensive system that came through to pressure Damian McKenzie into dropping the ball on the very last play to seal the win.
It wasn’t perfect, but it worked when it mattered.In the return match in Pretoria, a dominant showing had the All Blacks completely powerless for the first time in a long time, with the visitors tryless for the first 54 minutes. At 30-13 after an hour’s play, a serious warning light was flashing.
Not since before 2015, the World Cup had an All Black side been so thoroughly outclassed and out of answers. The reigning world champions and pioneers of try-scoring rugby were flummoxed, down heavily in a test match for the first time since 2012 at Twickenham.
Even the loss the year prior at home to the Lions with 14-men on the park had the All Blacks leading heading into the last quarter of the game. A calamitous last twenty minutes by the Springboks handed the game away and the first 60-minutes of the game was quickly forgotten.
It shouldn’t have been, as it was the first real sign that the Springboks were in the process of developing the world’s best defence.The Springboks continued to tinker and made changes to find the best formula.
Lukhanyo Am became the starting centre and Jesse Kriel became the finisher. Two starting quality centres, 1a and 1b, used in tandem to bring endless amounts of pressure.
With Am going off after 50 minutes, a fresh Kriel could come on and charge of the line for the remainder of the game, continuing the suffocating pressure needed to stop the ball ever getting to the edge. For this system to work, it requires supremely conditioned athletes on the fringes.
Having one tank of fuel for each half meant that the energy would never dip out wide with one centre replaced by the other. This means that Jesse Kriel is as important to the Springboks’ defence as Lukhanyo Am. The likelihood either one of them could keep up the consistent intensity by themselves for the full 80 is unknown.
Certainly, they would aspire to, but it would be a superhuman effort to do so. The issue ahead of the Lions tour is the Japan Top League is not the ideal preparation for the physicality of test rugby, where Jesse Kriel currently is playing.
With only a handful of teams at a Super Rugby level, there isn’t consistent competition every week. At 26-years-old, he is certainly not done in the test arena, but a question mark resides over whether Rassie Erasmus will pick Springboks out of the Japanese competition.
Erasmus says Europe is comparable to Test rugby, but the Top League is not. Outside centre options in South Africa not named Lukhanyo Am are lacking.
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