Following their win over Wales in last weekend’s semi-final, Robert Rees takes a look at how South Africa used their physicality to overcome Warren Gatland’s men.
Springbok power just a step too far for Wales
Rassie Erasmus’ side have made a name for themselves as bruising, physical opponents; overhauling their opposition to claim their fourth Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations title.
To dominate Wales is no easy feat but that’s just what South Africa managed to do. Behemoths of the game, RG Snyman, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and co just drove the Welsh carrying game backwards.
Losing their key ball carriers in Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi left Wales with fewer options.
Josh Navidi had been one of Wales’ best forwards and is key to their breakdown.
Losing the Cardiff Blues back row left Gatland without their best ruck clear-out option, allowing Pieter-Steph du Toit to have a free for all, and then Francois Louw when he came off the bench.
The semi-final was a hard graft but a step too far for Wales this time round.
Scrum and maul dominance an easy platform for South Africa
100% at both the maul and scrum left them with plenty of front-foot ball options. They kicked plenty away though some poor de Klerk box kicking and Le Roux’s deep positional game but they gained more than they lost through this method.
Keeping it close was South Africa’s game plan, not Wales’. Yet Wales found themselves dragged in by the superiority of the Boks power game.
A renowned back row struggled to compete and Louw’s turnover that sent them downfield for the winning penalty was a good a metaphor as one could find to describe the game.
Despite the dominance they kept the ball close and tight, running the ball more times than they passed it. This was crucial in them getting the gain line success that saw them earn enough points with just 39% possession.
No side had won a game with fewer than 20% gain line success. Wales with 25% against Fiji was the closest anyone came. South Africa forced Wales into that sub 20% area and ultimately that won them the game.
Wales managed to rack up 98 rucks but less than two-thirds of them were effective. Wales either coughing up the ball or losing yards as they entered contact.
Tight game forced Wales to waste possession
With 81 kicks from hand between the sides it was always going to be a day of who could take their opportunity and keep the opposition from scoring.
Neither side truly managed this but what Erasmus’ side did manage was to get Wales to concede 80% of their possession through these lacklustre kicks.
This not only forced Wales to concede possession but on the occasions where South Africa ran it back, Wales lost yards. Especially on the first contact of each phase. An indication of just how well and the carrying game went for thre Springboks.
It dragged Wales into playing their style. Before the semi-final Wales averaged 1.7 passes per ruck, but South Africa managed to lower that to just 1.1. A significant drop in one game.
Wales managed just 42 metres from 64 carries amongst their forwards. In contrast, their opponents managed 94 metres from just 32 carries.
Lack of gain line success forced Wales into clumsy, chasing game plan
It was the lack of gain line success that pushed Wales into dark alleys. Running tight when they knew they’d lose yards. It was this or relentlessly waste possession via kicking the ball to death.
Getting over the gain line just 23 times was never going to be good enough and why Wales persisted with this is what infuriated many fans.
The blame for that can be portioned on to South African pressure. By forcing Wales into these dark areas they either forced sloppy kicks or Wales’ all too often go to plan, the one up carrying.
This worked when they varied the pod systems (as discussed previously in the World Cup) but didn’t work when they were an inch off the pace. du Toit punishing them for those errors.
Wales looked physically tired and out on their feet for the majority of the game and on this occasion their toll of injuries rang through the performance, as did the aura of tired minds.
“Main photo credit”