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Tony Brown says Bok pack is ‘a weapon that gives backs more options’

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The former All Black flyhalf from Dunedin says that in his new role as Springbok attack coach, he is once more relishing having a fine pack of forwards providing front-foot ball for the backs.

South Africa’s New Zealand assistant coach Tony Brown walks in the pitch ahead of the first Rugby Union Test match between South Africa and Ireland at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria on July 6, 2024. Picture: Phill Magakoe, AFP

WHEN Tony Brown played for the Sharks in 2006, he famously said he loved having “a pack of angry Afrikaners in front of him rather than attacking him”.

The former All Black flyhalf from Dunedin says that in his new role as Springbok attack coach, he is once more relishing having a fine pack of forwards providing front-foot ball for the backs.

“When I was coaching with Japan, it was a case of the ball going into the scrum and getting it out as quickly as possible, which limited what you could do with it, but with the Boks, the pack is a real weapon and it gives the backs more options.”

After playing for the Sharks in 2006, Brown played for the Stormers in 2007, under coach Rassie Erasmus, so it is not hard to connect the dots as to how he has returned to South Africa to coach under Erasmus, who has tasked Brown with growing the team’s attack.

Brown says the attacking game went well against Ireland at Loftus for a first outing.

“That was a tough Test match,” he said of Saturday’s match.

“Both teams were going really hard at the breakdowns, so there was a lot of messy rugby. But I think the things we were trying to do on attack showed promise, particularly in the first half, when we got some width and created momentum.

“We applied pressure and things looked promising. We scored a nice try early on.”

An obvious element of the Brown way is the use of big loose forwards in the wider channels, with Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit making significant inroads on the attack.

“The South African team has outstanding loose forwards, and using loose forwards as runners in the wide channels is not really a new tactic; some other teams do the same,” said Brown.

“It is all about getting the best out of the players. Pieter-Steph and Siya are dynamic players with amazing skill sets. We are giving them licence to do what they do well, and getting the rest of the team to complement that.”

Brown says Saturday’s second Test in Durban will pick up where the Loftus match ended.

“It will be fierce again. Ireland are very strong defensively at the breakdown. From an attack point of view, we have got to be better. The better ball we get, the better we can attack.

“It can be frustrating as Ireland want to slow it down and disrupt,” Brown pointed out. “So we have to make sure our breakdown is quality, our ball carriers are quality, and then we can attack with some quality.”

Brown said that the Boks went into the first Test with a distinct plan of attack.

“We have been analysing Ireland for a while now, especially how they defend and attack the breakdown. We saw a few opportunities and this week we have to tweak the plan.”

The former All Black flyhalf said he was enjoying working with the world-class South African athletes. He pointed out that the midfield partnership of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel is the most-capped in international rugby.

“Both are world-class players. It is pretty amazing that they are the world’s most experienced midfield combination. I always want to push the players around what they can achieve on attack, and they want to soak up more knowledge.

“Jesse has worked so hard off the field to get better in every facet of the game and we saw a lot of examples of him being a dominant attacking force, whether carrying the ball or moving it with his passing game.

“Damian is such a physical guy in the contact. He can offload, he can get a lot of momentum, but something you do not know about Damian de Allende is that he is the best passer in the Springboks. I want to unlock that skill and ability and push them to be even better.”

Brown said that Kriel is an example to his teammates of what can be achieved through supreme fitness.

“Jesse is super-fit and in rugby, if you can position yourself quickly and you see the space and opportunity, you will get the ball in your hands, and that is what I am pushing all the guys to do.”

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