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Rugby | Springboks

Just don’t die wondering



The Springboks are enjoying their underdog status but the biggest plus for them going into Saturday’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship clash with the All Blacks is that they have a match day squad selected to stay with their opponents rather than play catch-up.

The Bok bench, with Pieter-Steph du Toit reverting to an impact substitute role and this time probably as a loose-forward, remains a strong one. Big Lood de Jager showed signs of returning to his old form when he came on late in the Perth match against the Wallabies and he has played some excellent games against the All Blacks in the past.

But against New Zealand you can’t play catch-up like the South Africans did last week in coming from 10 points behind against the Wallabies. Kieran Read’s men are the best last 20 minute side in the world and by some distance – though we need to note that the Lions actually did come back in the second and third tests of a series where they showed what could be done if you slow the pace of the game down – and if they are ahead on the hour mark you can expect them to crank it up rather than lessen the intensity and fall away.

Last week the Boks left it late and in the end you could say they died wondering at what might have been had they pulled their game together earlier and not left their charge so late. This time they cannot die wondering, for while it will be no disgrace to lose to the best team in the world, the competition does need them to win.

The Rugby Championship hasn’t been in its current incarnation for that long, but already there is a history of it being the competition that is about the battle for second place. And that is what it will be if the Kiwis win at the QBE Stadium, which is just a short hop across the Auckland harbour bridge and near the north shore where so many expatriate South Africans reside.

Beating the All Blacks

To beat the All Blacks the Boks need to get in early and cannot afford to fall behind. While the Bok conditioning has improved recent history, such as the South African win at Ellis Park in 2014 and the competitive Wallaby performance against New Zealand in Dunedin more recently, suggests your best chance is to get in early and build a lead.

Even if that doesn’t transpire, however, there is merit in having the most physical men on the field from the start so that the important battle for physical supremacy, which is more crucial against the All Blacks than other teams, can play out in your favour. With Jean-Luc du Preez on the side of the scrum, the Boks do have a better chance of establishing that foothold.

And with Steven Kitshoff, De Jager and Du Toit all due to come onto the field later, the Boks are well equipped to sustain any forward pressure they can create over the full 80 minutes. The Bok forwards do hold the key to the South African chances. Big solid scrums, comfortable lineouts on own ball and perhaps some pressure on the Kiwi formation and some big early driving mauls will announce that the Boks are in the game and give them confidence, and improve the chances of the visitors being able to hold the All Blacks with their defensive game.

Coach Allister Coetzee spoke about the need to control possession, and that is what the Boks will be trying to do. But a word of warning – Argentina did that in the first half last week and yet they still conceded three tries. So the need to cut down on errors will be paramount. There was a slew of unforced errors against the Wallabies. If that happens against New Zealand, the South Africans will be chasing the game at halftime, and they won’t want that.

Discipline has to be better

For the same reason, the discipline also has to be better than last week. Expect the crafty All Blacks to try and get under the skin of Bok skipper Eben Etzebeth and try to make him lose his rag. He must be ready for that and mustn’t allow himself to be provoked.

Don’t expect the Boks to be too flash in this match. They will not want to be turned over in the wide channels, and one of the negatives about the loss of Jaco Kriel is that perhaps they do lose a bit of pace. Siya Kolisi has been in magnificent form but he hasn’t spent his whole life at openside flank and Kriel, who plays openside for the Lions, did supplement him quite well.

The closest the Boks have come to beating New Zealand in New Zealand in recent years was in 2014. In that game they came back strongly in the second half with a forward orientated approach that actually had the Kiwis hanging on desperately at the end. You get the feeling that if the Boks are to win, it will have to be a similar kind of game, though with the Boks doing better in the first half this time than they did in that match.

This is not to suggest that the Bok backs don’t have a role to play. You can’t beat the All Blacks without scoring tries, and the South Africans will be primed to strike when the opportunity arises, particularly off turn-over ball. The All Blacks haven’t looked completely settled of late, and that has translated into some quite poor defensive performances at times. The Boks, if they are clinical and decisive, can exploit that.

They will want to be playing the game in the right areas of the field though and they’d want to try and avoid too much pressure being placed on a somewhat suspect back three by the Kiwi aerial attack, which of course has Beauden Barrett as a focal point.

Make no mistake, the All Blacks will start as clear favourites. Their No 1 status in world rugby is well deserved. But if the Boks bring their best game from the outset and are effective in playing to their strengths, an upset is possible. They just mustn’t die wondering. Let the final whistle arrive with the Boks knowing that they gave it their best shot over the full 80 minutes and the fans should be happy with that.

Teams for Albany

New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Kane, Liam Squire, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Nepo Laulau, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Replacements: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.

South Africa: Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Francois Hougaard, Uzair Cassiem, Jean-Luc du Preez, Siya Kolisi, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth (captain), Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Francois Hougaard, Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende.

Kick-off: 09.35am SA time.

Prediction: New Zealand to win



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