Acid test awaits Boks
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
All the key match-up between the Springboks and the All Blacks ahead of their Rugby Championship game in Soweto.
I thought the Springboks played very well in what was a really positive performance against Australia in Pretoria last weekend. It was good to see the Boks carry the ball a lot more and score five tries. I know that the Wallabies were depleted by injury, but one has to give credit where it’s due. I believe the Boks took a big step forward.
The Boks offered more balance in the way they played and Johan Goosen at flyhalf, made a big difference to the way the backline operated. He plays a lot flatter and challenges the line a lot more. It will now be difficult for Morne Steyn to get back into the mix. Time moves on, and while he’s had some great games in the green and gold jersey, I think there will now be a changing of the guard. Goosen has shown he’s got it, while Elton Jantjies is waiting in the wings.
Jantjies is an exciting player. At least he got on which was positive, but I felt with the game wrapped up with 15-20 minutes to go, perhaps he could have enjoyed an extended run. While that wasn’t to be, hopefully he will get more game time this Saturday against the All Blacks.
The other debutant, Jaco Taute, is another outstanding prospect. While he had a nervous start when he spilled the ball, he is a really good rugby player. While outside centre is not the position he is totally accustomed to, the Boks are clearly after the physicality he provides. He’s strong, athletic and is blessed with skills and pace. In my view, the midfield shuffle has also been good for Jean de Villiers, as inside centre is his better position.
Bryan Habana had a great game, but it wasn’t purely the tries he scored. His work rate was incredible and he was instrumental around the park. The other player who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him was Francois Louw. He had an absolutely superb game. The loose forwards played well and there now appears to be a good balance among the loose trio.
Turning to the All Blacks, they were absolutely brilliant this past weekend, and hopefully for the Boks they peaked against the Pumas. It was a big game for them because they knew if victorious, they would travel to South Africa to play in colloquial terms what is referred to as a ‘dead rubber.’
While the All Blacks have been crowned inaugural Rugby Championship winners, as far as the contest is concerned it will by no means be a ‘dead rubber’. It would prove a massive victory should the Boks put one over their traditional rivals. Conversely, the All Blacks will be determined to score a psychological blow by beating the Boks on the highveld.
While I have no knowledge of precisely what the Boks’ game strategy is, I certainly felt they played differently against the Wallabies than in previous weeks. Against the All Blacks, I think the Boks will have to adapt their strategy accordingly.
I don’t think it will be a case of the Boks creeping back into their shells this week, but rather playing a more measured game. They have to ensure the game remains tight and structured. Putting the All Blacks under pressure will hopefully force them into errors, which the Boks can then capitalise on.
The key to beating the All Blacks is strangling them. If a game starts flowing freely, as it did against Argentina, where they are allowed to get into their stride and gain quick ruck ball on the front foot, then the opposition has a difficult afternoon ahead of them. The Boks have to suffocate them by utilising the maul. Their defence has to be watertight and they have to turn the breakdown into a real dogfight. The clash upfront will be key.
The Boks can certainly target the All Blacks at the setpieces. The All Black scrum is solid, so getting an edge in that department won’t be easy, but the Boks have the ability to put the heat on their lineout. Disrupt the foundation of any team’s game, and they fail to gather momentum.
While the All Blacks come into the game with form, which should make them favourites, this is offset by the fact that the Boks are playing at home on the highveld. On analysis, it’s a 50-50 contest, however I have a feeling the Boks will edge it on the day. That said, there will be no more than five to 10 points in it.
Turning to Argentina’s clash with Australia, this game represents their best chance to beat the Wallabies and garner their maiden win in the inaugural Rugby Championship. They were disappointing last week, but will be aware that they came up against a brilliant side on the day, in a game, which developed into a style that didn’t suit them.
While the Wallaby pack has improved immensely, the Pumas will have a slight edge upfront. The Wallabies are tired and coming to the end of a difficult championship and are thus vulnerable.
The Wallabies are nowhere near the side the All Blacks are. If the Pumas return to their traditional style of play, I see them edging the encounter. Again, no more than five to 10 points will decide the test.Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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