ABs v Boks: 4 big match-ups

2012-09-14 08:59
Cape Town - The South African nation’s, and probably the team’s, confidence is reasonably fragile ahead of Saturday’s next chapter in the great All Blacks v Springboks saga in Dunedin (09:35 SA time).

GALLERY: All Blacks v Springboks key match-ups

But if the Boks are to pull off what many will consider a significant upset against the current world champions and Castle Rugby Championship leaders at the indoor Forsyth Barr Stadium, winning some of these critical skirmishes will presumably help a great deal ...

1. Frans Steyn v Ma’a Nonu

It’s a battle of the big boys at inside centre. The New Zealanders may have waved goodbye to Sonny Bill Williams for the time being, but in Ma’a Nonu they aren’t losing too much in the “heavyweight boxer” stakes, of course! A crash-ball runner of note, the 106kg Blues man earns his 70th cap here and will be desperate to glue himself firmly back into the starting XV in the No 12 jersey (though he has served 13 comfortably too) with SBW out of the way. Just don’t expect the Boks’ own hefty (108kg) inside jobber, Steyn, to be a willing revolving door: he will not be intimidated physically, but is under a bit of pressure to start reproducing a bit of the subtle skill-factor we know he hardly lacks. His midfield synergy with Jean de Villiers has not been without its snags thus far ... can they turn it around here?

2. Francois Hougaard v Cory Jane

I have been among Hougaard’s 2012 detractors when he’s been at scrumhalf for the Boks, but make no mistake, he’s a class rugby act and definitely warrants a wing slot – he was one of few rays of light at No 11 in the defeat in Perth. If somebody in the SA backline ranks is going to put an overdue smile on our collective dials for vibrancy, initiative or cheeky opportunism in Dunedin, it may very well be the slippery, unflinching Hougie. Mind you, his direct opponent on the All Blacks’ right wing, Jane, is a crowd-pleaser of some substance as well, and got on the scoresheet against the Pumas last weekend. Remember, too, how influential he was in the knockout phases of last year’s World Cup; he seems to relish really blue-chip occasions. Might he benefit from not having to actually “go looking” for work on Saturday to quite to extent the Bulls customer does?

3. Francois Louw v Richie McCaw

Has it been shrewd or foolhardy for Bok personalities to talk up McCaw gushingly in the lead-up? Heyneke Meyer called him “probably the best ever player” while Louw, the All Black skipper’s open-side rival in Dunedin, said he was “magic”. No pressure to excel, then, Richie. Mind you, he is such a wise old warhorse that he is unlikely to be distracted from his on-day mission by any sweet-talking. If anything, the heat is on Louw to play a critical part in slowing All Black momentum, thus confirming afresh the value of fielding a true fetcher, while also justifying his inclusion at the expense of the overplayed Marcell Coetzee who hovers on the bench. At least Louw can still dine out, in his own mind, on getting markedly the better of McCaw in a Super Rugby game at Newlands in 2010, when the Stormers trounced the Crusaders by a rare 28 points. Was that a once-in-a-blue-mooner? We’ll see.

4. Jannie du Plessis v Tony Woodcock

The other prop battle, between Beast Mtawarira and Owen Franks, could be pivotal at scrum-time too, but I chose this one primarily because of the likely importance of Du Plessis (still in a bit of doubt fitness-wise as this was penned) being able to grit his teeth and go the distance in this match. That is because if he pulls up early on, there could be drama for the Boks as the designated front-ranker reserve is Dean Greyling, very much more familiar with the loosehead side. “Doc” Du Plessis could also do with confirming that he doesn’t need brother Bismarck around to show necessary relish ... but it won’t be easy going against the seasoned sheep and dairy farmer Woodcock, who recently switched Super Rugby loyalties to the Highlanders after nine years’ yeoman service to the Blues. So yes, he’ll want to quickly wow the local Otago public in this match ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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