This time of year is when all coaches globally begin to truly earn their pay, with the North already in the midst of their domestic competitions, while the Six Nations is just around the corner – the first tier-one Tests to be played in 2014.
Next tournament off the rank is Super Rugby, still regarded as perhaps the eminent tactical nursery in world rugby, something that the participants Test nations results back up as being largely true – a one (New Zealand), two (South Africa) and three (Australia) in the world rankings show how efficiently the players are being honed earlier in the year via the South's premier 'domestic' competition.
That period, when All Blacks, Springboks, Wallabies and the cream of local talent, with an increasing number of foreign stars, showcase their wares, is when Super Rugby truly shines.
The boot has become an increasingly important weapon in Super Rugby over the years, which is a minor surprise considering that ball in hand attacking periods over the tournament's strategic history - think of the Blues running attack of yesteryear, the Brumbies guile and now the Chiefs (and once upon a time Crusaders) ability to counterattack.
But slowly the number of kicks is increasing due to the effectiveness of defensive screens and the fact that nothing will ever stop the coaching cliché “that the ball will always beat the man” an adage that applies even in the air.
The Chiefs, and then later in the year the All Blacks, took pride on the fact that a team could take them down to the lower depths of hell and subject them to fearsome heat for 79 minutes, and then as if they just finished the Haka and were fresh, find this level which at this stage of the rugby timeline has been beyond any other Test – or Super Rugby – outfit.
However sooner or later the finest blockades must crumble, be they the walls of
or the tortoises of the Roman legions,
and even the tough hides of the Chiefs will need to divert pressure away by
keeping hold of that precious ball for longer – the ultimate protection for any
The crediting of running rugby remains an elusive thing, with the All Blacks having a handy claim based on the ball in hand exploits of the incomparable ‘Originals’, although the Wallabies and the likes of Ella and Campese could have a say, while even the modern day Springboks enjoy throwing monster ball handlers towards the defensive line cause penetrating stress.
This could change over 2014 Super Rugby, for while attack is always a big part of the competition, it is no longer the rule.
Running rugby is something inherent with risks, despite the fact that all champions need to have the ability to strike in this manner. Turnovers, lack of support or the wrong decision by the man carrying the ball – the reality is that in rugby if you want to minimise risk you become defensively orientated, as fans in
will reflect on with some irony. Cape Town
Flooding of the breakdown has its advantages, for it can cause the chaos where only the strong survive, but modern rugby (at least right now) doesn’t conform to that principle, where coaches instruct players to hold the defensive line first and foremost.
Throwing bodies into the breakdown is now a measured and controlled thing, but even here approaches vary, with Australian and
sides still producing classical
scavengers, while South African teams are shifting back towards sheer power and
size in their loose forward combinations. New
will adopt the call where a referee will give, shall we say a more subtle
indication that the ball is to go into the scrum, while keeping a studious eye
on a straight feed, which ensures there will be adjustment in the scrum
"Yes nine" will be no more.
Grumble as some may; the reality is that scrum changes are being implemented for the all-important aspect of player welfare while ensuring that the stability of a collision is managed. One thing doesn’t change, front rows and coaches that are purists still find a way to gain some form of domination.