All Blacks vs Springboks: How to Beat the Rush Defence

All Blacks vs Springboks: How to Beat the Rush Defence

The first major encounter in the 2019 Rugby World Cup fea­tured the 2011 and 2015 cham­pi­ons New Zealand, against a South Africa side fresh off win­ning the Rugby Championship. 

We delve into the sta­tis­tics to look at how both South Africa looked to sti­fle the All Blacks and the style of play the New Zealand employed to counter this.

Quick ball vs slow ball. How wide did New Zealand set their runners and what effect did this have?

The above out­put win­dow using Hudl Sportscode tech­nol­o­gy shows the attack map for New Zealand.

The attack map is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a team’s width in attack. (How far tar­get of the pass is set in rela­tion to the source of possession).

New Zealand knew South Africa were com­ing with aggres­sive line speed to dis­rupt the width in their attack so if they attacked in wider chan­nels they would be play­ing into the South African rush defence. (As hap­pened in the 16-all draw in the Rugby Championship). 

During the Rugby Championship New Zealand aver­aged 15m in attack width. Yesterday, they aver­aged 10m attack width.

The bar graph above illus­trates how New Zealand set tar­gets clos­er to the ruck on slow ball to pre­vent South Africa from using their aggres­sive line speed and mak­ing tack­les on them behind the gain line.

  • 53% of New Zealand’s slow ball was played with­in 10m of the ruck.

This slow ball tac­tic allowed them to set pods clos­er to the ruck to get over the gain line and cre­ate momen­tum from slow ball, basi­cal­ly earn­ing the right to go wide. Playing a more typ­i­cal style of pass­ing to a pod wider off the ruck is much hard­er against the rush defence. This is a les­son that was learned dur­ing encoun­ters between the two sides dur­ing the Rugby Championship where New Zealand strug­gled against the rush.

On quick­er ball, New Zealand were then able to attack the space cre­at­ed either by the inside pass off 10 or the kick pass to the far wing.

The chain of events that led to the All Black’s first try came when Richie Mo’unga found winger Sevu Reece in space with a cross kick in behind the rush.

An aggres­sive line speed will always be vul­ner­a­ble to quick ball due to less time for the defen­sive line to be organised.

Getting on the outside: Richie Mo'unga exposes the area behind the rush defence with a well-timed cross kick.

South Africa defen­sive ruck analysis

South Africa began the game at an intense pace, com­mit­ting num­bers to the break­down and bring­ing aggres­sive line speed to unset­tle the All Blacks attack­ing flu­en­cy. However, this tac­tic required a lev­el of accu­ra­cy much high­er than what the Springboks offered on the day.

  • South Africa con­test­ed over two thirds of all rucks.
  • South Africa had a very low return with only one turnover won. 
  • For all of their com­mit­ment, South Africa only exe­cut­ed five Double Tackles and 25% tack­le dom­i­nance, which meant New Zealand were able to get momen­tum on attack and also offload the ball. 
  • New Zealand com­plet­ed eight offloads to South Africa’s two.
  • South Africa missed sev­en more tack­les than New Zealand while also con­ced­ing five more penalties. 
Despite a fast start, one turnover and a 29% ruck efficiency was not enough to trouble the All Black attacking structure over 80 minutes.

New Zealand defen­sive ruck analy­sis in comparison

The All Blacks were in con­trast, more than hap­py to leave the ball alone in the ruck on most occasions. 

  • New Zealand only con­test­ed 33% of defen­sive rucks.
  • They rather chose to have more play­ers in defen­sive line for the next defen­sive phase.
  • New Zealand got a great return from con­test­ing defen­sive rucks with 56% accu­ra­cy and thus pre­vent­ing quick South African ball.
  • New Zealand com­plet­ed 22 dou­ble tack­les – great­ly affect­ing South Africa’s abil­i­ty to offload in the tack­le and cre­ate quick sec­ond phase ball.
  • 75% of New Zealand tack­les were dom­i­nant tackles.

All of the above vari­ables com­bined to stop the South African attack from gain­ing momen­tum and allowed New Zealand to absorb the South African attack for large peri­ods of the game with­out con­ced­ing as many points and penalties. 

However, South Africa’s first try to Pieter-Steph du Toit came as a result of New Zealand under-com­mit­ting to the ruck in the dan­ger zone and leav­ing space in the guard area.

In comparison to their opponents, New Zealand gained three turnovers and yielded a higher ruck efficiency of 56%.
New Zealand under-commit to the ruck that leads to Pieter-Steph du Toit's try.


South Africa’s fast start did appear to have the All Blacks rat­tled momen­tar­i­ly, but they only came away with three points to show for their ear­ly peri­od of dom­i­nance. Handre Pollard’s missed penal­ty dur­ing this ear­ly peri­od to make the score 6 – 0 was a momen­tum turn­er, as not long after, the All Blacks cap­i­talised on a cou­ple of Springbok errors to make the score 17 – 3.

South Africa missed sev­en more tack­les than New Zealand while also con­ced­ing five more penal­ties. To bank on your defen­sive pres­sure to force errors and score points, much greater dis­ci­pline and accu­ra­cy is need­ed both in the break­down and in the open field. 

To learn more about how Hudl is pow­er­ing the mod­ern rug­by, read the lat­est in Hudl, The Newslet­ter or take a look at our pro­fes­sion­al case stud­ies from the Stade Rochelais and North Harbour Rugby Union.