| Lions coach hopes SA follows suit with Kiwi’s stricter breakdown policing

A specialist opensider like the Sharks' James Venter would be even more valued if breakdown laws are policed more strictly.

A specialist opensider like the Sharks’ James Venter would be even more valued if breakdown laws are policed more strictly.

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  • Ivan van Rooyen, the Lions’ head coach, hopes South Africa will introduce similarly stricter breakdown policing for the Currie Cup as was the case in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
  • Not only does he believe SA has some excellent ruckers who would easily adapt, the flow of the game would also improve.
  • Interestingly, more intensive refereeing at ruck time won’t necessarily benefit just the attacking team.

If there’s one thing South African rugby should copy from Super Rugby Aotearoa for the upcoming Currie Cup, it’s the New Zealanders’ increased policing of the breakdowns.

That’s one of the bigger hopes held by Ivan ‘Cash’ van Rooyen, the Lions’ head coach, as local rugby awaits final clearance for a return to play.

The issue was one of the main talking points heading into the tournament back in June and also saw the Kiwi teams conceding a plethora of penalties in the first round.

But they adapted quickly.

“I believe it would be great if we adopt those rules in our competition too,” Van Rooyen told the final instalment of the Lions and Wits Sport’s coaching webinar series.

“Not only do we have great ruckers in South Africa (who’d be able to adapt anyway), it will also even the contest out a bit.”

The breakdown tweaks used in Super Rugby Aotearoa

  • Ball carriers allowed only one dynamic movement after being tackled.
  • Crawling, or any secondary movement other than placing or passing, penalised.
  • Tacklers expected to roll away immediately in the direction of the touchline. This was a referee’s “number one priority” at the tackle.
  • There was “extra focus” on the offside line with defenders expected to be “clearly” onside to provide attacking teams more space.

Specialist skills at the breakdown has enjoyed a revival on the local scene this year, with the Sharks in particular making no secret of the fact that they prefer a ball-hunting opensider in James Venter and his understudy, Dylan Richardson.

The Lions too utilised a fetcher in Marnus Schoeman.

However, Rudolf Straeuli – Lions chief and former Springbok coach – noted that proficiency at the breakdown isn’t just down to one or two players.

“Rucking accuracy has improved a lot over the years as well as decision-making there,” he said.

“We’ve seen how it changes the flow of a game too. The Crusaders, for example, simply don’t enter a ruck or limit their numbers. They focus on keeping their defensive line intact.

“It’s ironic that breakdown laws are perceived to suit the attacking team but it’s actually benefiting the defending team.”

That’s no bad thing though as stricter refereeing – at least in its purest form – would place less emphasis on the battle on the ground and rather highlight the showdown between actual attacking play and the tackling to stop it in its tracks.

“Everyone though that the new application of the laws would favour the attacking team. Instead, if you make a mistake on attack and you don’t have support, the ball is turned over,” said Van Rooyen.

“Also, if you can start getting away with one- or two-man rucks, you’ll free up numbers to attack with. The defensive team will also need to make a decision on whether they send a guy to a ruck or not. It’s an interesting dynamic.”

– Compiled by Heinz Schenk

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