Two Cents Rugby: Are South Africa a boring team?

Springboks fans Credit: Alamy
Springboks fans Credit: Alamy

The Springboks being boring is a common theme bandied about by both fans and the media in 2022. But what do the stats tell us? Are the Springboks really a boring side? Or is it just a stereotype that goes with South African rugby?

Mauls

Every year or two we will see articles about how mauls are “killing the game”. Mauls are seen as a boring way to score points. But there’s no doubting mauls are a highly effective try-scoring option.

Many of this year’s top try-scorers are hookers. It’s true that in 2022 South Africa have done their fair share of mauling. They maul more than any other side, but not drastically so. The Boks average 8.5 mauls a game, Ireland are just behind with 7. They also scored more tries than any other side from mauls with 11.

But are they solely reliant on mauls? The answer here is clearly, no. Winger Kurt-Lee Arendse‘s seven tries in 2022 makes him the Springboks’ top man, and in fact more South African tries this year have come from backs than forwards.

Kicking

Do the Springboks kick too much? Are they kicking at times when they should be looking to shift wide? I think the answer here is yes and no.

The Boks definitely employ the box kick effectively, sending their wingers to contest the ball in the air. However South Africa’s kicking numbers have actually dropped from 2021.

Interestingly it’s the French, who were the ones kicking more than 30 times per game this year, with the Boks closer to 24 kicks.

Part of the criticism seems to come with the timing of the kicks. In 2022 there have been multiple times when we’ve seen the Boks get themselves in a great attacking position only to lose the chance by surrendering possession with a kick.

In these situations, players seemed to be reverting to the instructed game plan, rather than backing themselves to play a bit of heads up rugby.

In saying that, we did see what I believe was South Africa’s only try this year from directly running a kick back at the opposition when Arendse scored against England. So perhaps the players are being given a bit more leeway to back themselves.

Direct rugby

This is the area when I’ve had more irate messages from my father than I can remember. “Why don’t they spin it to their bloody wingers?” is the main line I hear from him, and sometimes it’s a hard one to argue against.

South Africa don’t pass the ball that much, in fact they pass the ball less than any Tier One team.

Part of that is taking the more direct route via a big unit like Damian de Allende in the midfield. That does mean the Bok wingers are often waiting for a chance to chase a kick rather than receive the ball out wide.

We can see this when looking at the average number of times wingers ran the ball per game. Some of the lowest numbers belong to guys like Makazole Mapimpi and Canan Moodie. Both of these players are incredible athletes who scored tries this year, but really had limited time with ball in hand.

Arendse has been a revelation with his try-scoring run, but more importantly, he’s been able to get his hands on the ball.

Ultimately, are South Africa a boring team? I would argue that the fact teams can set up to win games in a variety of ways adds to what makes rugby union interesting.

They’ve got a stingy defence and can certainly cut teams to bits when given half a chance. Let’s hope we see a touch more of guys like Arendse and co. getting their hands on the ball to compliment a few of those big mauls.

READ MORE: South Africa’s welcome pack to Europe: The teams heading into battle

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