Hi guys, the Bok attack is not firing so lekker. But it is one thing to say it is not working, and another thing to say it is not working properly. Because if we know the goal of the coaches, and the system they trying to play, it is easier to make a comment on what is going on.
Of course that is the problem! We do not always know what a coach is trying to do on attack, because in the crazy rush of rugby it can be hard to see what patterns he is using. For instance with the Boks on Saturday against Australia, they did not always get enough phases going for us to see clearly what attack patterns emerge. And many times we get the ball from turn-over or mistake, where attack structure is not in place yet.
So I just wanted to write some quick words about the Bok attack, and some interesting relationship between:
- The personel on the field
- The attack formation
- The way the players play
Before I start, let us first go through what we mean when we say a attack formation.
Basically it come down to how we use our forwards on attack.
The way backs lines up on the field is one thing – they can have moves and loops and switches and all that, but those poor guys is lost without support from the forwards, to clean, to run support lines, etc.
So on attack we can think of the forwards as the foundation, and the backs is the house we build on that foundation.
And these days we also use forwards in the line! So they are also a actual part of the attack. They can make big direct carries to help create space, they run decoys for us, they can stand in pods to give our flyhalf options. Etc. And in the same breathe the backs these days must also clean! We can use our senters to secure rucks, and so on. There many different philosophies.
But in a basic nutshell when we talk about Attack Formation, it come down to where we put the forwards on the field when we attack. Who must stand where, and what is their role? What kind of foundation do we want to give the backs. We only have 8 of these buggers so we must use them wisely!
In the old days it was easy because the forwards just all have to stick together. They must just rumble around in a group. There was a saying, “You must be able to throw one blanket over all the forwards”. Of course that is not necessary applicable anymore, but it is a starting point for the conversation. Because at times in a game you actually DO want your forwards closer together. For a instance if you are continually attacking in channel 1 with big carries, and you have your forwards “coming around the corner” of every ruck.
The Boks do this against Wales in the World Cup quarter final as response to the Wales moerse rush defence. The Boks said, “Ok, you want to hit our backs behind the advantage line? Then we will bring the battle inside and smash you closer on that gainline.” This is a tactic that maybe the Lions could have try when they was face with the Hurricanes rush defence, but they did not necessary have the powerful personel to do it, and was not necessary set up to play in that way (see how there is a link between players, pattern, and playing style?)
Anyway I go away on a train of thought.
So a traditional way of playing, and a way of playing when you are in trouble, is to use your forwards more in the middle of the field, and in a narrower way. As below. We consider them as one group, and they will go to where the ball is.
Now I think it is clear what the advantages and drawbacks is. The up-side is that our forwards is a like a fist with 8 fingers. We can play a power game because our beef is in a closer area together. The downside is that it make our whole game narrower… We will not easily go wide early because the backs is worried they will get isolate. It is in this type of system when we hear the saying “You must earn the right to go wide”. If the forwards have manage to carry powerfully and suck in defenders in the close channels, hopefully space and number mis-matches starts to appear in the outside channels.
It is important to make a note that this way of using forwards is not necessary boring!
We can still create exciting backline shapes, and run decoys and moves, but we are maybe limited to playing only as far as the middle channel on one phase. Can’t go too wide too early. Our house is build on where the forwards is grouped. Many teams play this way and it is fine. I will say it again, it is not necessary boring or konserwatief!
I will call the above formation a 0-8-0 formation. (This is a joke that coaches will understand). But you can see there is zero forwards standing in the outside channels. All 8 guys is grouped together. So 0-8-0.
Now maybe we want to mix things a bit, so we can start to use our forwards different. The next formation we can consider is called a 4-4 formation. We split the forwards in two groups and they will generally try to stick in this groups during attacking phase play.
It is logical that this give us bit more flexibility. It is a bit more compromise of being able to play narrow and maybe go wide. But it can create problems if one group of forwards end up in wider channels, and other group don’t use common sense and move closer to them on the inside. The two groups must stay connect and share personel, and the 9 must be careful where he direct play.
It is also important to make a note that we have split the tight forwards and the loose forwards (and hooker). So if you look, each group have little bit of speed as well as power to use.
Now if we want to get bit more adventurous we can use the 1-3-3-1 formation. Now things starts to get interesting… Because for the first time we have actually place a forward right on the outside of the field, on each side. This is the way Aussies plays at the moment.
Notice that the outside forwards must have pace. They will be there in support of the backs for when you go wide. The inside groups of forwards can be use as pods, decoys, carriers, options, etc and be part of the shape and the attack of the back line.
We have all seen the classical shape where the 9 pass the ball from a ruck and he can give it to a 3-man pod or to his flyhalf. The beauty of this is that the pod commit the inside defence, but even if the 9 do give it to the pod (he will usually hit the middle man) there still many options… The ball can be play back to the 9 on a loop. Or the first receiver in the pod can tip-pass to guy next to him in the pod as he is tackled. Or a pass is made from the pod to a back. Or the man just carry the ball up himself with his two friends in support to create quickball. We also see many times this same 3-man pod but it is a option off 10, with the same multiple options existing.
Please remember: we do all this sexy things in the 0-8-0 formation too! We can do it in any formation. The only difference is how soon we can go wide.
And then of course we have the most “wide” formation of all , the 2-4-2. As we can see we have now 2 forwards in each outside channel and only 4 forwards operating in the middle. This is the way New Zealand teams like Crusaders likes to play. They want to stretch you from touchline to touchline (called wide-wide plays) and they want the support there from the forwards when they does it.
This can be a moer of a exciting way to play. You sacrifice bit of the power game, but it mean you can go wide early, and you can use wide plays to test the opposition and create lekker conditions for yourself. In narrower formations like 0-8-0, wide plays is something that is a reward for work you did earlier. In more wide formations like 1-3-3-1 and 2-4-2, going wide is part of the process of creating opportunities.
Because one big advantage of this wider system is that the players out in the tramline forces the defence to keep its width. Usually defence must mirror what they see on attack. By keeping players in the wide channel on attack we forcing defence to make a decision. Do they spread more on defence? Do they just try to kill your ball inside to stop your wide plays? Do they try rush you in the middle? And individually we start to see tired players faced with decisions – does he stay, does he fold to other side of ruck? The play move fast across the field.
Personally I like the idea to show width on attack somewhere because it create doubt in the defence and you now starting to manipulate what they do.
Yes there is drawbacks to 2-4-2. You must have fast and fit forwards to play this way. And because you have spread the forwards more thin over the field, and they generally tends to be more about speed than power, it is possible that you can not get over the advantage line.
In this kind of game you are like Muhammed Ali, because you play fast but you can still be knock out by a George Foreman… But of course if you are Ali you can move the slower George around and find the gaps to finish him :)
The “holy” grail of this system is to have fast guys who is also powerful and clever, because they can play wide, but they also make good decisions, and they can come inside and fight in the trench of channel 1 to get go-forward ball when it is necessary. But this system is simply not for everybody, you must first have players who can do it.
So like any rugby system each have its own ups and downs, and it also depend on how coaches uses this systems. I want to make clear again, it is not necessary a case of being more or less conservative. It can be, but to me it is more a case of which channels you can attack with less risk, and how early you can go wide.
Ok, so how does the Boks play?
This is the strange thing. When I do a map of where the Bok forwards operate, it seem clear to me they operating in a 0-8-0 system. The forwards seems grouped more in the middle of the field, supporting where it is necesary, but with no forwards standing in width at all. It is possible that Boks was playing 1-3-3-1 and that the outside forwards just came inside a lot. And like I say it was very hard to detect a pattern because Boks hardly ever get phases going. But there was never any width in the forwards, so I honestly think the Bok approach was to be narrower.
Quick example below. Boks had a lineout on the left side of the field, and then make this lovely wide strike down the right of the field. Our 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 is all in the same area, and that is Warren’s arm sticking in the right. So no forward stay behind on the left side after the lineout to create width on attack on the next phase. Safe to say Boks not playing a 1-3-3-1 I don’t think.
Around 70 minutes when Bongi came on the Boks did seem to go to 1-3-3-1. We can see this because Bongi go to stand right in the outside channel. That is why he had a “better game” than Adriaan. The change in the system place him where there is space, and so he carry nicely which the public likes.
But what I am trying to find out for myself is what is the intention of the Boks in this narrow way they play. We have quite mobile forwards, so you think we will play a 1-3-3-1 (which will suit us). But it seem we are using them in the middle?
If that is the case should Allister not pick forwards who can play a more power game? Like I say, there is nothing wrong to play this way. In fact, if we had play more physical against the Aussies we will maybe have beat them. We will have keep the ball for longer periods, build pressure, shorten their line, and then suddenly the public see our backs is “amazing” players again because they have bit more space and time.
So we have a interesting conflict between the Bok personel on the field, their attack system (use of forwards), and the way they played. Because even though the Boks did not really threaten with wide plays, they also did not play a classical narrow game. And sometimes we see no forwards in support out wide, which also confuse me. Sometimes guys doesn’t seem to get involved at the breakdown even when it happen close to them. Almost like they say “I must get back to my area, this is not my area on attack”. I don’t know.
Our friend @Mud_n_Guts on twitter make a good observation about the moment below when Bryan decide to pick and go from a ruck. It is possible that Boks was setting up to go wide to the left, so when Bryan take initiative and shoot up the middle it mess up what the structure was. We can see Kitshoff and Mostert continue over to the left, as the system require.
(Personally I am of the school that say players must take this opportunities and it is up to his teammates to be aware, to adapt, and to support)
It is possible that Allister want to play with slightly narrower forwards, but then strike from channel to channel with forwards and backs. Advantage of this is that if you can play quickly from ruck to ruck you stress the defence and they run out of guys, and you get mis-matches and mistakes.
This is similar to what the Lions does – they all about quick ball. And it is interesting the Lions is not a “wide” team as people think… They don’t go wide on 1st phase or 2nd phase. They like to attack the close and middle channels off Elton. They stressing you fast from ruck to ruck. But the Lions DOES very often go to a 1-3-3-1 formation which is why we see guys like Warren so often in support down the touchline.
I am not clever enough to know how the Boks wants to play – it seem they setup to be tighter, but then they don’t always play like that, and they don’t necessary have the guys to play tighter.
But I hope you start to see this relationship between how you want to play, who do you choose, and then how they actually play. It must all be in a “synergy”.
Anyway it is all interesting. I will appreciate your input into this, and what you think and what you have notice about the Bok system. Leave a message below so we can have a conversation and learn from each other!
*Our twitter friend @Mud_n_Guts also make the point that the Boks is possibly implementing a 1-6-1 shape. So a narrower focus, but with some width brought in. It is possibly part of Allister approach to use the traditional Bok strengths but to start adding some width on attack. Not every S.A. player is use to it, and it take time for guys to get out of their provincial or club patterns, so that is why maybe why we seeing some “teething” issues.