Analysis: Springboks’ clever scrum attacks echo Schmidt’s plays

BLINDSIDE FLANKER PIETER-Steph du Toit had a team-leading two linebreaks for South Africa in their 35-17 Rugby Championship win over Australia, those surges part of a superb showing from the 26-year-old.

Both of du Toit’s breaks came from running the same line a phase after Springbok scrums, with the first leading to an important try for lock Lood de Jager.

Rassie Erasmus’ team showed inventiveness with their set-piece attack in this game, both from lineouts and scrums, even if everything didn’t always work out perfectly.

While it’s likely that the Boks – and most teams – are holding plays back for the World Cup, it was intriguing to see du Toit’s runs exploiting a very specific space, one that hasn’t always been explored in the past.

Having scored their first try from a superb turnover attack, the Boks launched from a scrum for their second.

The scrum is close to the left-hand touchline, around 28 metres from the Boks’ tryline.

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As we can see above, outside centre Jesse Kriel carries directly off scrum-half Herschel Jantjies’ pass on first phase.

Kriel runs at Wallabies’ out-half Bernard Foley, who the Boks appear to have identified as a weak link in defence. Foley tackles low, with Kriel getting over the gainline as Wallabies scrum-half Nic White also joins the tackle.

The Boks send in openside flanker Rynhardt Elstadt, left wing Makazole Mapimpi and fullback Warrick Gelant to resource the ruck, with number eight François Louw also arriving.

The expectation here – the norm, even – would be that the Boks play their second phase to the right of the ruck, continuing to attack the openside. We can see below that de Jager [red] has worked around to that side in order to sell it to the Wallabies.

But instead of hitting de Jager for a same-way carry, the Boks bounce immediately back to their left to devastating effect – targeting the space in behind the scrum, where the Wallabies are disorganised.

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The first key for the Boks here is that they win the gainline with Kriel’s carry, meaning the Wallabies’ forwards must retreat as they come out of the scrum.

That, in turn, results in separation between the Wallabies’ back five forwards and their front rows, who are still bound together as Jantjies launches the second phase, as highlighted in red below.

Aware of what’s coming, the South African front rows are in no hurry to disengage and move towards the ball, hoping to delay any similar move by their Australian counterparts.

Wallabies openside flanker Micheal Hooper and number eight Isi Naisarani have worked hard to get around the corner of the breakdown onto the openside, with lock Rory Arnold [5 below] following them.

Blindside flanker Lukhan Salakaia-Loto [6] and lock Izack Rodda [4] have also hurried back towards the breakdown and find themselves tight to it as Jantjies bounces back left.

The gap that has developed between Rodda and loosehead prop James Slipper [1] is clear and the Boks are prepared to take full advantage.

Scrum-half Jantjies does a good job by scooping the ball up and running a slight arc away from the breakdown, getting outside Salakaia-Loto and also posing a threat to the inside shoulder of Rodda.

That briefly holds Rodda and allows du Toit to surge into open space, having perfectly timed his run from the blindside flank of the scrum – slowing to a jog briefly and remaining slightly hidden behind Eben Etzebeth until the crucial moment.

Du Toit accelerates onto Jantjies’ pass and bursts into the Wallabies’ half, chipping over the head of Dane Haylett-Petty for his scrum-half to regather. Though Tom Banks does well to stop Jantjies a metre short of the Boks’ tryline, de Jager forces his way over for the try two phases later.

The Boks ran a very similar play targeting the same space in the second half, with du Toit making big gains again.

This time, replacement inside centre Frans Steyn is the man to carry from the scrum, going right through Foley’s tackle attempt.

Wallabies centre Matt Toomua commits in after Foley’s miss, with Hooper also helping on his way back from the scrum.

The immediate gainline progress is obviously a huge advantage for the Boks – whichever direction they shift the ball next. Kriel, Marcell Coetzee and Louw resource the breakdown this time, before the Boks bounce back towards the scrum again.

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Again, the Wallabies’ forwards have to retreat downfield, with sub number eight Jack Dempsey and replacement lock Rob Simmons following Hooper around the corner.

With Salakaia-Loto dropping behind the defensive line altogether, lock Arnold is left isolated on the edge of the breakdown.

Boks replacement scrum-half Cobus Reinach does a good job of running the same arc Jantjies did in the first example, luring Arnold [white below] into a tackle just before Reinach releases the ball.

Fortunately for the Wallabies, tighthead prop Taniela Tupou works to get back and lands his right shoulder onto du Toit just as the Boks blindside flanker is accelerating.

It’s certainly arguable that Tupou never gets back onside here but the match officials are content and du Toit is slowed, although he fights back to his feet to make more valuable metres for his team.

Both of these examples from the Wallabies revolve around winning the gainline by targeting Foley. In the past, Australia have done their best to hide weaker or smaller defenders in wider channels or the backfield, so it will be interesting to see if they tweak their scrum set-up in fear of Foley being picked on in a similar manner again.

The Springboks are certainly not the only team in the game who have been looking to target the space immediately in behind the scrum after a direct carry.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland are always extremely innovative and intelligent with their set-piece attack and we’ve seen something similar from them in the recent past – with the example below coming against Scotland during the 2018 Six Nations.

Conor Murray feeds out-half Johnny Sexton from the base of a dominant scrum just as it begins to collapse, with Sexton popping the ball onto Garry Ringrose to carry, the centre using his footwork to dance over the gainline.

Sexton and Dan Leavy resource the breakdown, with CJ Stander arriving as the third man in.

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Scotland back rows John Barclay and Ryan Wilson fold around the corner expecting Ireland to continue their attack towards the left touchline, while Hamish Watson and Jonny Gray have to work hard to get across to the edge of the ruck after the scrum collapse.

Ireland bounce immediately back to their right as Murray scoops the ball up, worrying Gray, and delivers a flat pass to Keith Earls.

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Earls, who started wide on his right wing from the scrum, has timed his arrival perfectly, allowing him to accelerate onto Murray’s pass after sneaking in behind the scrum.

It looks like Earls will make the clean linebreak and potentially score here, but Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist despairingly stretches out to tackle the Ireland wing at the last moment.

Gilchrist’s job is even tougher here because of the scrum collapse but the second row gets back to his feet to make a crucial defensive intervention.

We have also seen Schmidt’s Ireland using a dummy version of this kind of play, where they appear set to immediately bounce back in the direction of the scrum but instead play to the openside – as in the example below against Australia in the June 2018 series Down Under.

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Ireland’s first-phase play is similar here, with Ringrose carrying the ball off Sexton, although Earls goes to resource the breakdown this time alongside flanker Leavy – with Sexton steering clear of getting involved.

Scrum-half Murray [white below] has stood off Ringrose’s carry and held on the left-hand side of the breakdown.

Instead, number eight Stander acts as the scrum-half as Ireland appear set to attack to the left-hand side of the breakdown, where second row pair James Ryan and Devin Toner are running hard lines flat off Stander, as indicated below.

We can actually see a gap in the Australian defensive line in between the retreating front row and second row Rodda, similar to the ones South Africa exploited.

But rather than go after that space, Stander plays a pass out the back of the Ireland second rows to the deeper-lying Murray – who is now heading back out to the right-hand side of the breakdown.

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Murray screens a pass behind Robbie Henshaw to Sexton, who pops an inside pass to blindside flanker Peter O’Mahony.

Unfortunately for Ireland, the Wallabies haven’t fully bought the dummy movement back on the left and they’re in good position to deal with Ireland’s attack on the openside.

Nonetheless, this example does give us some insight into the working of Schmidt’s mind when it comes to Ireland’s set-piece attack.

The Kiwi head coach is always looking to add new layers and tweaks to his players, so it will be interesting to see what he delivers in this regard at the World Cup. 

– This article was updated at 3.21pm on 23 July to correct ‘Marty Banks’ to ‘Tom Banks’.

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