Analysis: South Africa’s 40 missed tackles

Date published: October 12 2016

Our resident analyst returns to break down where it all went wrong for South Africa’s defence up against the All Blacks.

Few will have watched the first half of South Africa vs. New Zealand and envisaged the complete destruction that would follow. The result was the worst ever loss by a South African team and the highest score by New Zealand against South Africa.

A huge amount of credit goes to the All Blacks for their performance but the South African defense was abysmal. They missed 40, yes 40, tackles in the game!

To put that into context, to miss 40 tackles in a game you have to miss a tackle every two minutes. However, South Africa had the ball for 31 percent of the time, so you have to miss a tackle just under every minute and a half. But, ball in play time is usually only around 35 minutes, so that equates to just under two missed tackles for every minute of ball in play time.

Some more ugly statistics, New Zealand made 24 clean breaks and a staggering 754m in carries. Three All Blacks missed tackles. Only five South Africans – including replacements – had 100 percent tackling success.

Morné Steyn missed more tackles, five, than all but one New Zealand player actually made. This article will look at how South Africa managed to miss 40 tackles and what this means for their chances in the November Tests.

The first missed tackle of the game occurs just after the ten-minute mark, Anton Lienart-Brown takes the ball almost at a standstill but still manages to beat Steyn, who goes far too high. This is an example of poor tackling technique leading to a missed tackle, there’s 39 left to come.

The second missed tackle, coming just a few minutes later, is more down to poor defensive structure than poor technique. Pieter-Steph Du Toit, circled, is left isolated in the defensive line. The second row actually had a good day defensively, making 14 tackles and just missing two, but he is let down by his second row partner, Eben Etzebeth.

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Beauden Barrett draws the play to the right, sucking in Du Toit and allowing Etzebeth to take it easy, as he thinks the ball is going away from him. Brodie Retallick cuts it back and runs at Du Toit’s exposed blindside shoulder.

The third missed tackle of the day is a mix of excellent All Black attack and poor technique. As you can see, Faf de Klerk gets caught out in a key defensive position – he had joint worst defensive figures of five tackles, four missed. He should have numbers in the defensive line to assist him but Jerome Kaino runs straight at the inside defender, Bryan Habana, and leaves De Klerk totally isolated.

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De Klerk also doesn’t help himself by keeping one eye on Israel Dagg, on the outside. He should be lined up directly in front of Lienert-Brown but he’s drifted left and has to lunge to make the tackle. We’ve already had three missed tackles but so far the Boks have scrambled their defense once a line break has been made and they’ve managed to hold out the World Champions.

I’ve skipped ahead into the second half when the South Africans are beginning to tire and continue to make both technical and mental errors. In this example, De Klerk has once again found himself isolated in a key defensive position.

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The scrum-half knows that he needs to drift off Kaino as soon as he moves the ball to Dagg but he virtually sprints to the sideline, turns his hips and Dagg simply steps off his right leg and de Klerk is left, once again, to lunge for the winger.

Going into the final quarter, the game was still tight. Unfortunately, the Springboks’ stamina is disappearing under the mountain of tackles that they are being asked to make.

The key defender here is Juan de Jongh, as he bursts out of the line to try and cut down the outside options. However, his inside cover is Lood de Jager and Du Toit who are slow to drift over. Barrett attacks the space and then leaves De Jongh stranded with a pass to Kieran Read. The person left with the missed tackle is Habana, who suddenly has three players to cover and can’t stop the number eight.

The final missed tackle we’ll look at is the one that leads to the penultimate try. By now the Springbok defense is exhausted, but, as with the previous example, the players being shown up are the supposedly fresher subs. Bongi Mbonambi is trying to drift but he simply doesn’t have the pace, Jaco Kriel runs away from him and the hole opens up for Liam Squire to ghost through.


Facing New Zealand is a unique task, however, missing 40 tackles is something which should never happen against any team. Some of the misses can be chalked off as the result of Kiwi brilliance but too many of them are down to simple technical or mental mistakes.

Almost all international teams will exploit ending up in a situation where you are lunging at an attacker, that was something that came up time and time again. Equally, slow forwards in outside channels will make an attacker’s eyes widen – especially the counter attacking threats of Wales and England.

South Africa have actually been quite a good defensive side in the tournament this year, they rank second by tackle success rate, but they’ve shipped 22 tries, the second most. They’ve also missed a combined total of 62 tackles against New Zealand and allowed the All Blacks to make just 500m fewer in their two match-ups than the Springboks have made across the entire tournament.

Morné Steyn seems to have unseated Elton Jantjies as the fly-half elect but neither he, nor the inside centre option on Saturday, Damian de Allende, offer much defensively. In fact, they both come in around the 70 percent tackle success rate, which is below average.

The Springboks still have significant strengths and like many teams in the Rugby Championship this year they held the All Blacks for the majority of the game but they do have a soft defensive underbelly which will be enticing for their November opponents.

by Sam Larner