It’s awesome being able to follow the u21 tournament this closely thanks to Youtube livestream available on demand. After a long lockdown with no rugby, it might be a bit harsh to criticise the coaches and/or players so soon after the reloading of rugby. There have been elements of play to enjoy and no shortage of effort or enthusiasm yet there is big room for improvement as the matches fall short of being showpieces.
Two of the areas needing attention are backline play and ruck clearing out.
On the whole, backline play seems to be at an all-time low. It is very basic. There are not many good designs on offer. There is very little to suggest that the back coaches are having a meaningful say at training or that attempts are being made to capitalise on available skills. There were hints of plans falling into place when the Lions relied on speedy service from the base during their first half against Free State and when Free State started so brightly with expansive rugby against the Bulls, as well as a cameo of what good hands and counter-attacking using width and space could do when the contest was already over for WP versus the Bulls. All-in-all not enough to produce well balanced games.
Not helping to broaden backline horizons is the lack of continuity. It is pretty much a defenders paradise at the u21 Championship moment. Very easy to isolate the ball carrier and win the turnover. No team appears more ruthless than the forward-dominant Bulls – the cohesion killers who bring heaps of intensity. A fundamental of breaking down an opposition defence is protecting the ball. It’s evident that in the fine details, support players are just quick enough or technically tuned-in, ball carriers just not alert enough to where their help is situated and tackled players are mechanically too easy to exploit while on the deck.
Due to Covid-19 and in an attempt to save costs, the tournament is very short one, meaning coaches are under extra pressure to correct faults in doubly quick time. It’s not ideal and definitely not easy. Hopefully they can weave some magic here and there.