Scots up for brutal breakdown battle

Wed, 13 Nov 2013 12:59
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South Africa may be looking to evolve their game, but Scotland believe their soft underbelly may still be the breakdown.

South Africa may be looking to evolve their game, but Scotland believe their soft underbelly may still be the breakdown.

Scotland's defence coach Matt Taylor feels they will face a more dangerous Springbok outfit at Murrayfield on Sunday, than the one they ran close in Nelspruit in June.

The Scots held a 17-6 lead early in the second half, before two late scores - a Patrick Lambie penalty (74th minute) and a Jan Serfontein try (79th minute) - saw the Boks secure a 30-17 win.

The Boks' more expansive game - which has seen them score 26 tries in seven matches since the June Tests - has made the South Africans a much bigger threat.

However, Scotland head coach Scott Johnson believes the Boks could be contained if his team can again dominate the breakdown - as they when French referee Romain Poite allowed a free-for-all on the ground.

Fellow Frenchman Jerome Garces is the man in the middle this week, which will have contributed to the Scots' belief that their tactics at the breakdown will again work.

"We met South Africa a mere 151 days ago in Nelspruit and they've certainly played some quality footy since we gave them a bit of a scare that day," Johnson said.

"I was proud of a lot of what we did in Nelspruit, but in this business you have to perform for the entire game and we didn't do that in the match during mid-year.

"As I said last weekend and as you'll hear me say without fear or favour at every game, the contact area will be vital this weekend and we have to improve there against a very clinical South African side."

But the Scots readily admit they will face a more dangerous South African team at Murrayfield on Sunday.

Taylor, who has studied the evolution of the South African game over the past decade in his coaching roles with Australian teams and, in the last 16 months, with Scotland, agreed with the suggestion that the Boks had opened up their approach over the past year under Heyneke Meyer, with Scot Richie Gray alongside, more fully utilising their strengths across the pitch.

South Africa have stuck often to a direct, forward-centred approach so that even when the ball is not driven down the field by the pack or kicked to the heavens and corners by the flyhalves, backs are asked to run straight and preferably over their opposite numbers.

Meyer was criticised in his homeland for seeming to stick with a 10-man approach by relying on his Bulls stalwart Morné Steyn, a renowned kicking flyhalf, but Meyer has added layers to his game this year and we witnessed a more varied attack in the Rugby Championship that brought the Boks closer to the world No.1 All Blacks.

"From what I've seen in the Championship they can play two different styles of game," said Taylor.

"They can certainly play an attacking style keeping the ball in hand, but they can also stick it up the jumper, and drive it and kick it as well, so I think they have a Plan A and Plan B depending on how they want to play it.

"I think they have improved overall as a team in attack and defence from when we played them; they're using the ball more and better than they have in the past.

"But, still," he said, smiling, "when I look at South Africa you tend to know what's coming. All teams will have little surprises, but for me it's still about matching their physicality because they are a massive rugby nation in terms of how they play the game, and the style that their players know well.

"You look at both games [with New Zealand] in the Championship and there wasn't much in them really. New Zealand might be ranked one but I don't think South Africa are far off them. They can play a more attacking game than they maybe have in the past and whether they do that this weekend or not may be dependent on the weather, but some of their attacking in the Championship was brilliant.

"Some of our attack shape was quite good against Japan and some of the effort in defence was good. Obviously, we conceded two tries which wasn't great, but we are reasonably positive. Looking ahead to South Africa we know that we have to up the bar in terms of our intensity and getting our structures right."