Rugby Championship

Can Boks do ‘Lomu’ on Savea?

2014-09-11 15:03
Julian Savea (Getty Images)
Cape Town - Even as his team so often prospered against South Africa anyway, New Zealand powerhouse wing of yesteryear Jonah Lomu could never boast one particular achievement: a Test try against the Springboks.

That was despite a career strike record of 37 touchdowns in 63 matches, and all of 12 battles with the Boks.

The current All Black left-wing sensation, of course, is Julian Savea, who is in the enviable position of sporting more tries right now (26) than caps (25).

But he, too, is yet to register one against South Africa from three starts against them: if emerging Bok No 14 Cornal Hendricks can keep him quiet once more in the looming Castle Rugby Championship fixture, it could be influential in any quest for an upset win by the visitors.

The Savea-Hendricks duel is one of a quartet we’ve identified for special attention in Wellington on Saturday (09:35 SA time).

Here are those match-ups ...

Julian Savea v Cornal Hendricks

If the Boks can produce one of those gritty, desperate, backs-to-the-wall performances for which they can be renowned, you may just find that tries are in short supply at the likely wet and cool “Cake Tin”. But if just one or two five- or seven-pointers are registered, from limited opportunities, you wouldn’t want to bet against the 108kg human missile Savea - playing in his city of birth - getting in on the action given half a chance. With his stepping and blistering acceleration, he is more skilful than the aforementioned, tree trunk-legged Lomu ... and direct opponent Hendricks, on the Bok right, will be all too aware of that. The South African faces perhaps the sternest Test-level examination yet of his defensive mettle, but don’t forget that he is also proving no slouch in his still-fledgling career at this level for getting over the try-line - four from six games, including a nice finish against the Wallabies last week.  

Aaron Cruden v Handre Pollard

The slippery, fit-again Cruden plays his fifth Test against the Boks and is another modern All Black yet to taste defeat against these traditional foes. His all-round strengths are well-documented, although how well he kicks at goal - something Beauden Barrett struggled with against Argentina last week, despite a brilliant showing in general play - might be important if conditions are reasonably grim and challenging in the windy city. The 25-year-old Cruden ought to have fewer early butterflies than his much more youthful opposite number Pollard, rather suddenly restored to the Bok mix for his biggest test of temperament and ability yet. That said, Pollard is known to also boast a fine all-round game, and let’s not forget he has the physical qualities and desire to be able to challenge Cruden’s defensive stability in their own “turf war” if he’s prepared (or instructed) to carry the ball to or over the advantage line a la Henry Honiball - once a fairly regular thorn in NZ flesh.

Kieran Read v Duane Vermeulen

I am just a little wary of wishing to hype up Vermeulen too much for this one, given the admirable, monstrous nature of his commitment and effectiveness against Australia in that gut-wrenching loss in Perth. Frankly it was an effort from the fearless No 8 that had “match winner” written all over it ... except that the result went the wrong way at the death. Can he muster that sort of rampant energy all over again, and against the widely-branded best player in the berth globally, Read? The sight of the Haka should be enough to get Vermeulen’s juices flowing, but it is doubtful whether he will get as many front-foot opportunities as he did against the Wallabies. Instead, if the favoured All Blacks get a strong head of steam, he may be summoned more into back-tracking tackling. Vermeulen is good at that, too ... and he may have to be once more, as Read probably shades him for pace and linking skills. Whatever happens, this could be a particularly thrilling positional tussle between indisputably high-calibre combatants.

Brodie Retallick v Eben Etzebeth

A leading New Zealand national newspaper has already (but rightly) stated the reasonably obvious this week by describing this as a “mouth-watering match-up between not just two of the best young locks in world rugby, but two of the best second-rowers, period”. It seems beyond dispute. So who will earn bragging rights at No 4 on Saturday? In Etzebeth’s favour is that he is partnered by the most seasoned Test lock on the planet in Victor Matfield, whilst the hugely industrious Retallick has to act as rare, senior companion to the older but less Test-savvy Jeremy Thrush as the All Blacks struggle through an injury virus among No 5s. But where the similarly uncompromising, mean-faced Retallick could cash in is through Etzebeth’s slight, lingering rustiness after a lengthy absence this year through injury. The muscular Bok is not quite back yet to his dizzy standards of a year or two back. Or will that all change here?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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