Boks v NZ: Soweto sizzler
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Cape Town - Never mind that the Castle Rugby Championship title has, not
unexpectedly, been decided ahead of the clash of grand foes South
Africa and New Zealand at FNB Stadium in Soweto next Saturday (17:00).
All Blacks’ admirable 54-15 disposal of Argentina in La Plata put paid
to any lingering hope the seemingly revitalised Springboks might have
had of belatedly snatching the crown.
But at the same time there
are unlikely to be any half measures on display when the world champions
tackle their historically most respected rivals on their own terrain at
the weekend ... “dead rubber” is very unlikely to be a dampening
thought on the minds of the respective combatants.
Zealanders will be seeking to end the maiden campaign of this
restructured competition with an unbeaten record, not to mention a 16th
win on the trot which would take them to within one victory of matching
records held by both the All Blacks and the Nick Mallett-era Boks of 17
in succession by top-tier nations.
As for South Africa, with good
reason to be chuffed about a five-tries-to-one dismantling of the
Wallabies at Loftus and a pleasing fresh sense of adventure, there can
be no disputing that they would end the tournament on a statement-making
high of their own - considering that this is their first season without
a variety of once-legendary, World Cup-winning personnel - with a win
It remains to be seen, of course, whether the
probably jet-lagged All Blacks will field their strongest possible
line-up on paper, although these days “rotation” can actually be a
shrewd and strengthening device on a murderous first-class itinerary.
off to them, too, it is not normally the New Zealand way to disrespect
the rich tradition of battles with the Boks by putting out anything too
closely resembling a second string – if anything, South Africa have
sometimes been more shamelessly guilty of this.
You could also
argue quite strongly that both sides go into the fixture with a score to
settle, given that the Boks lost in Dunedin recently but their
opponents also knew deep down that perhaps they ought to have been
beaten on the day.
In addition, Jean de Villiers’s outfit seek to
confirm second-placed finish on the Championship table; a bonus point
on Saturday, even if they lose, is almost certainly enough to ensure
that the injury-decimated Wallabies cannot even overhaul them by
earning a full house of five points (unlikely under current circumstances?) in Argentina.
a four-point advantage in log-point terms, South African are presently
also 69 points better off on a “for and against” basis.
becoming clearer is that, once again, the regrouping Boks are shaping up
as likeliest challengers to the All Blacks’ No 1 mantle and will seek
to only underline that at FNB Stadium.
Perhaps stung just a
little by portions of the local rugby public voting with their feet by
leaving significant sections of Loftus unpopulated on Saturday – was it
at least partly a statement of disapproval for the previously rigid,
robotic, kick-obsessed game plan? – South Africa’s far more spontaneous,
have-a-crack approach against the dishevelled Aussies would have given
many of their diehard fans a really warm glow.
the Boks may be reluctant to turn the All Black game into too much of a
free-flowing, fast and loose spectacle because that could play too
heavily into the eternally attack-desirous visitors’ hands.
they certainly have the pack (already proved in Dunedin) to match or
eclipse the New Zealanders both for quality ball and physical relish,
and now with a more progressive approach to flyhalf play - initial warts
and all, welcome, Johan Goosen
! - should also be in a far better position to keep the All Blacks guessing as to how they will play situations.
Skipper De Villiers and later also coach Heyneke Meyer
didn’t manage to pull too much wool over our eyes by suggesting that
the Boks didn’t deviate a great deal from their prior formula.
Yes, Jean, and we all just saw a blue giraffe stampede down the streets of Sunnyside in sunglasses.
of De Villiers, he may be one of very few Bok players linked to
possible alteration to team composition plans for the All Blacks
It is quite possible that the starting XV will get a blanket vote of confidence, although the availability of versatile Frans Steyn
, who sat out Loftus injured, is not yet known.
he be passed fit for Saturday, it will introduce the dilemma of whether
to vault him straight back into battle -- and whether that should be at
No 12 again, meaning a return to less familiar outside centre for De
The captain, albeit still struggling to capture his
known best personal standards, looked much more at ease closer to the
action in Pretoria, where he also seemed - not surprisingly - to be able
to pull leadership strings more effectively.
Throw in the fact
that debutant outside centre Jaco Taute warmed increasingly to the
combat after a tentative start, and the return of the hefty Steyn is not
a foregone conclusion, should he be given the green light for
Fullback? He is capable of doing a smart job
there, although Zane Kirchner was much improved against the Wallabies
and Meyer will be reluctant to ditch someone he has been stubbornly
loyal to, under those circumstances. *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing