Bok depth can trump All Blacks
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Don’t get me wrong, the New Zealand “1st XV” is one mean rugby side … quite rightly stationed at present as best on the planet in rankings terms.
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They only underlined this once more as a three-try blitz in the space of only 11 first-half minutes largely paved the way for a 20-point triumph over France in the much-hyped RWC 2011 meeting at Eden Park on Saturday.
The now 100-cap Richie McCaw and his men certainly got the proverbial job done, eventually totaling five tries to two against the clearly second-fiddle French and dotting some seriously handsome ones, into the bargain.
Of course there was much debate around the “creative” composition of the French team, but they still gave good game-time to many of their supposed heavyweights and only confirmed, really, that they are currently a pretty rank-and-file Six Nations outfit - one which even suffered the indignity of defeat in Italy earlier this year.
A signal of their lower aspirations these days, I felt, was the exaggerated way in which centre Maxime Mermoz celebrated his intercept try midway through the second half - it was not as though it gave any clue that a concerted French revival was in the offing (it wasn’t), and all it did was reduce the deficit at the time to 19 points!
Nor did France especially relish the admirably front-on defensive commitment of so many All Black challengers, forward and back alike: it may well have explained several near-amateurish fumbles a split second before earnest “contact” came in.
During their main period of majesty in the first period, the All Blacks’ known backline “flair factor” came pleasurably to the fore, as holes across the advantage line were punched with glee, polish and pace.
And yet, for all that, a part of me was left after the final whistle wondering whether New Zealand had really cashed in on the foundations they’d forged for an arguably even bigger score-line in their favour.
One school of thought might argue with good reason that Graham Henry and his charges are shrewd characters who know when to step off a pedal and simply save petrol for different demands later in the tournament - after all, for what it mattered, the bonus point was in the bag as early as the 42nd minute.
Personally, I was left thinking that, with the notable exception of the ultra-dynamic Sonny Bill Williams, the bench which they emptied in the second half - admittedly partially for injury reasons as Israel Dagg and Adam Thomson worryingly limped off - perhaps doesn’t give them as much renewed oomph as a Springbok one quite probably would.
With respect, in the current climate, Andrew Hore most certainly isn’t Bismarck du Plessis, Ali Williams arguably isn’t as prominent and hungry as the seemingly ageless Danie Rossouw, and Andy Ellis hasn’t yet illuminated this World Cup in the manner Francois Hougaard has - in both a scrumhalf and left wing capacity in his case, of course.
And when the All Blacks, for instance, swap one squat, strong-thighed Franks brother for another on the tighthead side of the scrum, you are not providing the sort of thunderous leg-drive in the loose and tight-loose that is a potentially game-breaking hallmark of Bok loosehead reserve Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira.
This remains a very, very big “if”, do note, but if South Africa happen to be playing New Zealand in a semi-final and these great foes are neck-and-neck with 20-25 minutes or so to go, I’m just beginning to think my money would be leaning a tad toward the Boks because of the particularly rich fresh-legs impetus and ambition at their disposal …