Ex­cit­ing times ahead if Ire­land can build on this record-break­ing per­for­mance

Spring­boks’ blunt bul­ly­ing no match for game-changer that is Aki

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Rugby | Autumn Internationals - Liam Toland liamtoland@ya­hoo.com

I’d many rea­sons to go to the Aviva on Satur­day, but chief among them was the op­por­tu­nity to watch the Spring­bok hooker Mal­colm Marx and the won­der­ful num­ber six Siya Kolisi.

Marx had sin­gle­hand­edly trans­formed a 57-0 hu­mil­i­a­tion against the All Blacks to a 24-25 one-point loss within 21 days. Kolisi is well worth a lit­tle home­work be­cause his life story is in­spi­ra­tional.

So I watched and I watched th­ese two play­ers, grow­ing in­creas­ingly de­spon­dent un­til my gaze panned back and fo­cused on Bundee Aki. I be­lieve his ar­rival is a game-changer for Ire­land and how we ap­proach the game.

For in­stance, his tackle tech­nique cre­ates so many pos­si­bil­i­ties. The Spring­boks took their first line-out off the top in a pre-re­hearsed move, as they clearly wanted their fat­ties to truck it up in mid­field.

It was an ideal sit­u­a­tion for the Spring­boks to im­pose them­selves on the game af­ter just 52 sec­onds and bully the Ir­ish de­fence. En­ter the 6’2”, 129kgs tight­head Coe­nie Oosthuizen as the man to blud­geon any Ir­ish thoughts of dom­i­nance.

He was ini­tially met by Johnny Sex­ton be­fore Aki smashed. Tack­ling comes in many forms, with tempo and tech­nique be­ing set by the ball car­rier. I don’t know what Oosthuizen was ex­pect­ing but when Aki en­gaged, the Ir­ish cen­tre did so on his terms. Com­ing for­ward he planted his feet as he ac­cel­er­ated into the Spring­bok.

Phe­nom­e­nal core

Clearly Aki (37kg lighter) has a phe­nom­e­nal core and he wrapped his left arm around the Spring­bok tight­head and pow­ered him back­wards into a ter­ri­ble po­si­tion. Off the 129kg prop went, less than a minute on the clock. From the re­sult­ing scrum Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira couldn’t cope with Tadhg Fur­long and con­ceded a penalty. 3-0 Ire­land; Oosthuizen off in­jured and Mtawarira in trou­ble af­ter three min­utes.

But deeper prob­lems lay ahead for South Africa and that same off the top play re­vealed all. As out­half El­ton Jan­tjies re­ceived he im­me­di­ately swiv­elled (tele­graph­ing) to­wards his fat­ties. I still don’t know what South Africa were ex­pect­ing but as Oosthuizen re­ceived from a stand­ing start both Mtawarira and Kolisi were in­side him of­fer­ing noth­ing.

An­tithe­sis

This is an­tithe­sis to a Joe Sch­midt side who all have roles, de­coys, lines, of­fer­ing to carry, sell­ing the de­fence, etc.

The two pow­er­ful car­ri­ers Mtawarira and Kolisi did noth­ing to trou­ble the Ir­ish de­fence, fa­cil­i­tat­ing an early read on Oosthuizen and a dou­ble smash from Sex­ton and Aki.

Aki went on to dis­play the full range of his tack­ling tech­nique, such as when out­side cen­tre Jesse Kriel put on the gas. Aki tracked him off a split mid­field scrum and pa­tiently traded space for time with An­drew Con­way out­side fo­cused on Court­nall Skosan.

As Kriel was most vul­ner­a­ble, Aki sim­ply en­gaged and dragged him into touch.

He has that per­fect physique to en­gage the tackle in a myr­iad of ways and is never happy sim­ply to put the man down as his post-tackle ac­tiv­ity is re­lent­less. This at­ti­tude, al­lied to tech­nique, dragged South Africa into ter­ri­ble places where th eir skill-set and ex­e­cu­tion was truly ap­palling, not least for a team in camp for the past num­ber of months.

The mod­ern game comes with it a plethora of statis­tics and my cur­rent ob­ses­sion is turnovers, but I can’t find a stat for in­ac­cu­rate Spring­bok pass­ing be­hind the re­ceiver’s shoul­der. Take the one sloppy turnover by Ire­land on 33:07 and fol­low South Africa’s re­ac­tion. Yes it’s an ac­tive turnover tran­si­tion, but with a four-on-two and the Ire­land try line at their mercy they butchered it long be­fore the ter­ri­ble pass from Kolisi into touch.

Con­trast that to Ire­land’s amaz­ing tran­si­tion from yet an­other sloppy Spring­bok turnover on 79:34. This time it was from an at­tack­ing Spring­bok scrum that broke down on the sec­ond pass. Yes, a top-five team and they can’t make two suc­cess­ful passes. They should be fined.

Im­me­di­ate in­stinct

A turnover gained deep in­side your 22 is worth gold, but the team need to sense the op­por­tu­nity – it needs to be part of the team’s cul­ture. So when Ja­cob Stock­dale gath­ered in­side his 22 his im­me­di­ate in­stinct was to at­tack and dom­i­nate the hap­less Spring­bok full­back An­dries Coet­zee. The sub­se­quent clear-outs, pre­ci­sion place­ments, shot se­lec­tion and han­dling were won­der­ful, but it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that ear­lier Kolisi pass into touch.

Ire­land were in the ex­act same spot with the ex­act same in­tent but South African de­fend­ers were all at sea as An­drew Con­way landed the per­fect pass for Stock­dale to fin­ish what he started. Per­fec­tion.

A fur­ther dif­fer­ence be­tween the sides can be seen in Rhys Rud­dock’s try. Ire­land’s off the top line-out play was markedly dif­fer­ent in ex­e­cu­tion than South Africa’s at­tempt 70 min­utes ear­lier. South African de­fend­ers were fixed, trans­fixed and left floun­der­ing at ev­ery turn by Ir­ish play­ers run­ning hard lines, pass­ing ac­cu­rately on the gain­line and clear­ing out the ball car­rier when par­tially ex­posed.

And on this very point of how the team per­forms Devin Toner, Fur­long and es­pe­cially Rob Kear­ney were ex­em­plary in their self­less­ness at clear­ing out to en­sure Marx et al got al­most no op­por­tu­nity to jackal in for the ball.

Yes, I went to the Aviva to wit­ness Marx and Kolisi. The for­mer was in­ef­fec­tive while the later was worse. I had noted on Fri­day how con­trol­ling the pace was the key to an Ir­ish per­for­mance and win. Ire­land did that but they did so much more. When Aki et al re­ally find their feet who knows where it will end.

Of course all this may be moot as it was so dif­fi­cult to tell which side was in green!

I went to the Aviva to wit­ness Marx and Kolisi. The for­mer was in­ef­fec­tive while the later was worse

PHO­TO­GRAPH: MOR­GAN TREACY/INPHO

Ire­land’s Bundee Aki takes a selfie with his six-year-old daugh­ter Adri­anna Aki and fam­ily mem­bers at the Aviva Sta­dium on Satur­day night.

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