England v South Africa
Boks finding their feet at breakdown
November 19, 2008
Burger stretches the Scotland defence during their clash at Murrayfield last weekend © Getty Images
South Africa flanker Schalk Burger admits his side have struggled to adapt to the stricter refereeing protocols at breakdowns during their season-ending European tour.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) have told referees to be much harsher at breakdowns with players going off their feet, and the Springboks have also had to adapt to the punishment for such an offence under the new experimental law variations (ELVs). In the Tri-Nations earlier this year, a free-kick was awarded. But in the autumn internationals, which culminate in Saturday's match against England at Twickenham, the punishment is a penalty.
"The breakdowns have been different to what we're used to," said Burger. "The first game (against Wales), we conceded quite a few penalties. Last weekend there were less, so we hope we're improving. Every side is conceding more penalties at the breakdown, especially on the attack - so there's a change in mindset.
"They've changed the way they approach the breakdown on attack. We hope we can make that mental adjustment."
It has been a learning curve this autumn. "The first week we weren't really prepared for it," Burger admits. "(On Saturday) we need to try and stay on our feet, and the ball carrier's got to try and keep the ball up longer."
Asked whether he thought the new laws had compromised South Africa's attacking edge, Burger added: "No, I don't think it's blunted us. Even if you trip over someone you've just got to try and stay up somehow. As I said, it's just a change in mentality - and there's nothing else you can do. You've just got to be on your feet, and they're being very strict about it."
The Springboks have failed to impress since winning the World Cup a year ago - a ground-breaking win over New Zealand in Dunedin in the summer was a rare highlight in an otherwise mediocre 12 months. But centre Jean de Villiers is aiming to finish the season on a positive note, before the Lions tour to South Africa next spring.
"I think we always knew this tour would be important for our preparation for the Lions tour," he said. "We just want to improve on our two performances on this tour and finish on a high.
"Saturday's game will be the last one we play before the first Lions match, and we hope all the guys here will be involved in that. If you think playing a Test match against one union is tough, when you play four unions together in the Lions it's one hell of a test. You want to beat the individuals first, and then the collective team."