DYLAN HARTLEY: If England strip away South Africa's machismo, they will have nowhere to go

Daily Mail

Daily Mail

Author 2019-10-31 00:44:00

Every team has a unique selling point and for South Africa it is their physicality. They have a lot of big Dutch boys with farming backgrounds. Big frames, big hands and big heads.

They have built their team and their style around those strong points, which is smart. Size is their biggest asset. They love scrums, they love mauls and they love collisions.

England will set out to negate that. If they take away that machismo which the South Africans pride themselves on, then where do the Boks go? Sow a seed of uncertainty, take away their USP and suddenly some self-doubt creeps in.

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South Africa's players prepare for a drill during Wednesday's training session in Tokyo 

That’s one of the reasons why on our summer tour in 2018 Steve Borthwick learned Afrikaans, so he could decipher their lineout codes. For most of their players, Afrikaans is their first language, so Borthwick got a few of the key guys around with his little dictionary for a crash course! I wouldn’t be surprised if Maro Itoje, George Kruis and Courtney Lawes have a little refresher this week.

What South Africa lack in other areas, they compensate for with their physicality. They like to come at you wave after wave. It’s not just one ball carrier, it’s two.

They’re usually thrown into contact by another 20-stone bloke behind them — we call it latching. They bolt on to the ball carrier, so instead of 20 stones you’ve got 40 stones travelling at force. If you think about Newton’s second law — force equals mass times acceleration — then you can do the maths. It’s relentless but I’m confident England can match it.

Some players are easier to fell than others. To be honest, I’d be more scared about tackling 12-stone winger Cheslin Kolbe because of his footwork. Against the big guys, low tackles from Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Lawes will be key. If you go low, then you get the guy to ground pretty quickly and England have got the weapons to get on the ball and compete.

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Cheslin Kolbe (centre) is a tough man to tackle because of his impressive footwork 

South Africa’s rucking game is very efficient. It’s not technically brilliant but they smash the ruck to provide the ball. If they get around your try line, they pick and go, pick and go, pick and go.

You’ve got to be thinking discipline, communication with the referee and looking at the offside line so you don’t give away a penalty advantage.

I’m thinking get as low as you can. As soon as you go high and provide a chest for someone to run into, they can drive their legs. I’m thinking dive at knees, dive at ankles, wrap legs and affect the speed of the ball. It’s a two-man job — one goes low and puts his head in the spokes and the second guy hits up top to try to affect the ball. If the guy is worrying about the ball, then he stops worrying about his legs.

When you get over the ball to compete for a turnover, that makes you vulnerable.

Going back to Sir Isaac Newton, you’re making yourself a bullseye for a 20-stone clear-out. You put your head over the ball, so your neck and back are exposed. You’re a target to be hit. You’re a sitting duck and you’re in a position to be damaged.

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The Springboks' rucking game is not technically brilliant but it is very efficient

That’s why David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Richie McCaw, Curry and Underhill are warriors. They put their heads where it hurts; they’re brave blokes who put their bodies on the line to compete for the ball.

Look at the back-rowers after the game and you’ll see blood on their faces, blood on their shirts, lumps and bumps all over their bodies. Everyone is coached to compete for the ball but it takes a certain mindset to really hunker down and stay on it like a limpet.

You see a lot of boys give up the contest, but you can fly into Underhill or Curry like a human missile and they won’t move. They will survive the contest and win those penalties on Saturday.

For me, Eben Etzebeth typifies the Springboks. Raw physicality, coupled with physical presence and an unbelievable skillset. I know plenty of guys who are big, strong and powerful, but mindset in rugby is such a big thing.

The mindset of South Africa’s forwards is very aggressive. They want to be the dominant force in everything they do — and England should try to undermine that.

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If England can negate their opponents' physicality then they should achieve victory 

It’s interesting to look at where that mindset comes from. Like New Zealand, rugby is the No 1 sport in South Africa. The talent pool is so good. There are lots of big kids and lots of fast kids, so the ones who make it to the top are often those with the best mindset.

After they beat Wales on Sunday, lock Lood de Jager linked it back to the country’s socio-economic struggles. I would agree that in life and sport, struggle or setback is very important. If guys have had tough, hard upbringings, that can obviously help them become a little more resilient.

Everyone walks a different path but there’s no right or wrong way. Curry and Underhill are from nice families, good backgrounds and haven’t grown up in a township, but they work just as hard.

In the England team, you’ve got guys from private schools and you’ve got guys from Tooting or Knowle West like Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge. Everyone’s got a different story and this weekend will provide another chapter.


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