Mitchell questions Boks' belief
John Mitchell (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Do the Springboks have enough belief to win both tests in Australasia?
The supersport.com website reports that former All Black and Golden Lions coach John Mitchell doesn’t think so, but also points out that the away leg of this year’s Rugby Championship is of massive importance to Heyneke Meyer’s team in the way they take their game forwards.
If the Boks can win both, Mitchell believes, then they will have set themselves on the perfect path to arrive at the Rugby World Cup strong and confident and would have made big strides forward in their game plan.
The Boks leave on Saturday for Brisbane, where they will face the Wallabies on September 7, and then move on to Auckland to take on World Champions New Zealand a week later at Eden Park.
Despite poor win records at both venues and a poor performance in Mendoza by their own standards, there is hope the Boks will be able to bounce back and produce an inspired performance to give themselves a chance of winning this year’s Rugby Championship trophy.
But it won’t be easy. The first thing the Boks need is that belief, as Mitchell explains.
"I don’t know if there is enough belief at the moment in the Boks to win both.
"If they win both then they are going to create the necessary belief to move forward," Mitchell said.
"That will also create a reverse psychology and those deposits will be huge against the All Blacks and Wallabies going forward.
"But I guess they don’t have those deposits just yet and that is why this particular trip is so important for the Boks.
"They’ve got to earn those deposits to turn around the mental sphere and their outlook."
With a massive battle against the Wallabies looming, Mitchell believes the two areas which will be key will be defence and the breakdown, precisely the two areas that looked to be lacking at times in the win in Mendoza over Argentina.
"Clearly they have to get to their ball quickly and get past their ball, over the ball and secure the space against the Aussies, which they can do," Mitchell explained about the breakdown.
"Defensively they’re going to have work very hard because the Aussie backs will pick on weak defenders and move the ball laterally.
"Defensively they’re going to have to be real good on the inside of their teammates.
"The Aussies would have noticed that and it will be interesting to see if they move the ball to that side more often or not.
"Then the alertness of Willie le Roux, if he is selected, to track the attacker on his inside shoulder and use the touchline as his friend.
"They will get in behind Basson for a bit of the time, based on his tendencies."
Mitchell believes it would be worthwhile for Heyneke Meyer to look at shifting his back three, and perhaps putting Willie le Roux on the wing, thereby making space for either Pat Lambie or Zane Kirchner at fullback.
"That is worth consideration.
"You have to shore up the potential weaknesses and the area that has defensively got indecision about it or poor execution of tackle.
"I think the Boks can win the aerial contest, and they are going to have to step up in terms of winning the breakdown area."
And at the breakdown, the very real threat of Michael Hooper stands out.
While Australia were comprehensively beaten by the All Blacks in both their two outings in the Rugby Championship thus far, Hooper was a constant thorn in the All Black side.
"He is very good," Mitchell said of Hooper.
"They will have to get the ball away quickly from the body in terms of placement, and the Boks’ second arrivals will have to secure the ball first.
"The Boks are very threat focused as opposed to securing their ball first and winning the space.
"They tend to chase the threat and that leaves an opening, and that is something the Aussies will enjoy."
As for the change in approach in the Australian style, Mitchell believes a quicker, more direct approach will be apparent by the Aussies.
"They will look to get quicker ball, they will probably bring a bit more support back inside the ball carrier.
"They have the ability to arch out and come back straight and they will pick on some of the bigger Boks forwards in that kick-chase line.
"He will be excited by that."
The Boks re-assemble on Thursday in Johannesburg and leave on Saturday evening for Brisbane.