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Rugby | Springboks

All Blacks still seeking perfection



For those South Africans who were present at the All Black press conferences building up to last year’s Rugby Championship clash in Durban, the words of the New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster when he looked ahead towards Newlands on Saturday brought a chilling sense of de javu.

It was almost like pressing a rewind button and being transported in a time machine back to the Garden Court in Umhlanga Rocks a year ago listening to the All Black coaches and players such as Dane Coles and Ben Smith. Back then the pre-occupation was with the Kiwis still needing to produce a full 80 minute performance and, almost unbelievably, it was the same again.

What was unbelievable about it of course was that the Kiwis did whitewash the Boks 57-0 in Albany a couple of weeks ago. Can it get better than that? Well, to answer that question perhaps you have to understand the All Black psyche.

To them the score can sometimes be less relevant than the all-round performance, and they appear to remember the early minutes when the Boks played well better than many South African supporters do. And the All Blacks would be right if they thought of their performance in Durban last October as more superior to the one they produced last time the sides met.

“Albany was a special game, there is no doubt about that, but we feel we are still looking for our full 80 minute performance this season,” said assistant coach Ian Foster.

That was exactly what All Black head coach Steve Hansen said this time last year ahead of the rout of the Boks at Kings Park. It is not just talk though, for the All Blacks genuinely do appear to believe they’ve been a bit too hot and cold this year.

“A lot of what we did early in our last game in Buenos Aires was really good but what we did later in that game was less so. Although you do have to give Argentina credit. Like South Africa did in the first half in Albany, they really came at us in the third quarter. Then you have to look back at our match against Australia in Sydney.

“We were brilliant for the first 40 to 50 minutes in that game but then we fell away in the last half an hour. Then the following week we had to use a get out of jail card against them in Dunedin. What that taught us is that what has happened in the past is not necessarily a good indicator of what happens next. In some of our recent games over here we have had some really close results where we have had to put a lot on the line in order to win.

“A lot depends on how you define success or failure. Some people will see success or failure as a win or loss. We did win in Buenos Aires, but then were we that successful with the way we played in the second half of that game, and the answer would have to be no. We want to put an 80 minute performance on the park and we feel we haven’t done that yet.”

NO LACK OF MOTIVATION

What Foster knows for sure is that while the All Black players have already won the Rugby Championship and many of them have traveled a long way to get to Cape Town, there will be no lack of motivation to beat the Springboks even though they won easily the last few times the teams have met.

“It is hard to explain, but when the players are out in the middle in a Bok/All Black game there is just no quarter given. You know that you have to have 100 percent commitment in the mind or it is going to hurt. It is always a special game and this one will be no different. It is a long time since we have played in Cape Town and it is a special place and Newlands is a special ground steeped in a lot of history.”

An extra motivator for the All Blacks is the fact that they have always regarded the week that they are in now as their hardest of the season because of the travel factor, with the Kiwis having travelled to Cape Town via Argentina.

“Like all teams in this competition we have issues with travel, and this is our hardest week of the season. All teams have one week like this, and it requires some planning. We haven’t really changed much in the last five years, which is how long it has been since Argentina were added to the competition, and you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that one of the keys is to minimise the amount of work done on the training field.

“The objective is to the energy levels and the brain adjusted and clear. We have made a few tweaks here and there over the years but otherwise we’ve been using different techniques to get us to the same spot we normally are on a Saturday by the time the game starts. The key is that you really have no choice but to respond quickly. If you don’t it will show in your performance.”



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