It’s a bit dated, but I’m sure you’ll still find this piece by BRENDAN VENTER worth reading.
Brendan Venter, SuperSport
The fact that both the Bulls and Stormers have endured trying starts to the Super Rugby season proves that in rugby there is no permanent recipe for success.
I believe rugby is fundamentally a simple game, which we often tend to over-complicate. During my spell with London Irish, a phrase I coined was that, in the oval game, ‘the trick is that there’s no trick.’ The players retorted: “You’re just playing with words.” but I said, “No, if you’re only ever searching for the magic bullet you will end up missing the point.”
In the context of the Stormers’ defeat this past Saturday, Jean de Villiers must be commended for not offering excuses and admitting forthrightly that the Stormers were off their game. However, experience within the oval game has taught me that sometimes it’s not always about one’s own level of effort but rather the tactical ingenuity of the opposition that saps a side’s energy during a match.
As a coach, it’s crucial to employ a multi-faceted approach when analysing defeat. To use a medical analogy, offering the correct diagnosis is critical to the healing process. While it is imperative to look inwards for answers – which the Stormers must be credited for doing –further lessons can be learned from unpacking strategies put in place by the opposition that prevented a side from functioning to full capacity.
Johan Ackermann and his management team deserve immense credit for their side’s tactically disciplined territorial approach and kick execution. While the Lions notably made use of tactical chip kicks over the top, akin to the strategy we employed at the Sharks in the 2013 Currie Cup final, principally the hosts were successful as they prevented the Stormers from generating energy and momentum from multi-phase defence.
Moreover, playing in the pocket and slotting drop-goals was a deliberate tactical ploy by the Lions to suck the energy out of the Stormers and, in so doing, the scoreboard kept ticking over in the former’s favour.
Another tactical approach which I’ve observed teams are now increasingly employing is playing less rugby in order to win. I often hear pundits state emphatically that a team with little or no ball possession will end up on the losing side. However, owing to empirical evidence gathered, and the Lions-Stormers match is a recent case in point, this theory has been wholly disproved. At one point in the second half, for instance, the Stormers enjoyed as much as 62 per cent ball possession.
Ultimately, the Lions proved successful as they were able to starve the Stormers of their greatest energy source – their defence.
In spite of emotional reactions emanating from Cape Town, I believe the Stormers remain a well-coached, well-organised and well-structured rugby side.
Following on from the Lions’ tactical success with the boot, naturally other teams will follow suit and kick more against the Stormers. It’s therefore up to the management team to devise a tactical solution and turn the aforementioned weakness into a potential strength.
Casting an eye over the Bulls – who’ve suffered consecutive losses – I believe they are in more of a quandary than the Stormers. They have won three Super Rugby titles based on a simple yet effective blueprint. However, owing to injury and the current personnel at their disposal, the reality is that the Bulls are neither proving penetrative on attack nor breaking the gain-line – primarily they lack the explosive ball-carrying ability of the Sharks, for example.
Thus, I’m of the opinion that a complete system overhaul is required at Loftus Versfeld.
While the Sharks – widely tipped as the best South African bet for the title – have not reinvented the wheel, they possess a clear playing identity under Jake White.
In addition, I’ve observed back-line coach Sean Everitt has introduced inventive offensive plays, evidenced by Paul Jordaan’s try against the Bulls in round one. From a lineout, Frans Steyn came short, Jordaan drifted and owing to this deception Lwazi Mvovo was able to break the line and draw the last defender.
Special moments of creative subtlety impress me as a fellow coach.