BEATING THE ALL BLACKS – Adapted from an article written by Harry Jones of ‘The Roar’
Would the Boks have played differently at Ellis Park if they weren’t worried about bonus points and winning
the Rugby Championship? We don’t know for sure but let’s hope so. In my opinion, in each test against
New Zealand, the goal should be to win and only to win. Forget bonus points. Forget chasing games. It only
plays into New Zealand’s hands. By playing the way we did, we handed New Zealand what they wanted. A
coveted win against the Boks on the highveld at Ellis Park and by association the Rugby Championship
A war analogy to best describe the folly of our strategy.
Well known Chinese military general and strategist Sun Tzu warns that false courage is the path to doom.
History tells us that an impregnable defence is potent, because the enemy must assault you on a
battleground of your own choice, where the configuration favours the natural advantages of defence.
Attacking a superior foe will almost always end in defeat. Sun Tzu says creating disorder in a formidable foe
can equalise things. The main point is to refrain from committing forces until the proper moment. A crafted
moment. A moment, in a place and time of our own choosing, where we have an advantage over a
manipulated and weakened enemy. Raw power in the right position can then be applied to annihilate the
previously superior foe.
Bearing that in mind, let’s explore the Ellis Park strategy.
Our battle plan was very risky. It was audacious, and we failed on everything except the try total (and being
a highly entertaining losing team).
It did not have to be that way. We made a daring assault, succeeded, but then failed to consolidate our
gains. We ended up fighting a battle in terrain (broken play) of our enemy’s choosing which was doomed.
We kept the ball when the ball required too much of us. We exposed our own weaknesses (fitness, speed,
mobility, skill particularly in the pack). We welcomed the enemy into a terrain he loves.
Even though we knew New Zealand were fitter, more mobile and had superior skills, we did our part to
ensure that the ball stayed in play 48 percent of the time – even though history tells us that when the ball is
in play more than 45 percent of the match, New Zealand wins.
It’s hard to create scrums, but it’s rather simple for Bulls players Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn, and Zane
Kirchner to create lineouts. Slow things down. Return to a known strength (admittedly not the strength it
was when Victor Matfield was around). Statistically, the tests with the fewest lineouts are the tests where
New Zealand have been most successful.
When Jean de Villiers scored, what we needed next, more than anything else, was more lineouts to let our
forwards breathe. In a Test where we had already exceeded our average total number of runs and passes by
halftime it was time to go into a laager. Circle the wagons. Kick the ball with purpose. Into the stands. And
wander slowly to the lineout. And steal one. We could not just keep playing Barbarian rugby against the
best broken field team on the planet. New Zealand kicked 15 more times than South Africa, played with 16
percent less possession and passed 32 less times.
New Zealand won the test even after:
an arduous travel schedule they
traveled to high altitude, to our most daunting fortress
they were given two yellow cards at a critical point in the second half
we scored three of the finest tries in South African rugby history
we ran 219 more metres with ball in hand than they did
we had five more clean line breaks
we produced 12 good offloads (three more than them)
we got good clean quick ball
we dominated territory and possession (60% / 58%)
we beat 28 of their defenders
we made them miss 16 percent of their tackles
we created five mauls
They didn’t just beat us. They won by 11 points. At home. At Ellis Park.
Unless we get fitter, leaner, more agile and mobile, develop better all round skills and greater appreciation of
space we will not beat New Zealand at their own game. We can probably beat all other sides with an open
running style but not this New Zealand team. They are a different beast. They must be confronted on our
terms. With tactical nous and blunt force trauma.
Adapted from an article written by Harry Jones of ‘The Roar’