All Blacks set the standard

2012-10-10 14:39
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
I thought the Springboks enjoyed a very good start in the Test last Saturday in Soweto, owing to the All Blacks giving away a lot of penalties early on. The visitors were really on the back foot in the first stanza, but the game turned completely in that first play just after half-time.

The All Blacks ran out deserved winners and showed at this point that there is some distance between the sides. I felt the difference between the two teams was the All Blacks’ breakdown work and skill level, which was far superior.

As I wrote ahead of the Test, you have to suffocate the All Blacks and slow their ball down. You can’t afford to give them quick front foot ball to run back at you. Having conceded four tries there is no question the Boks showed defensive frailties.

While Dan Carter controlled the game superbly, and is in a league of his own, it looked to me that Johan Goosen was playing with a bit of an injury and I wonder if that didn’t affect his kicking. He is obviously a talent and his injury is a blow as he is prepared to take the ball flat and challenge the defence. However, Elton Jantjies is an equally talented player, showed good temperament and slotted his kicks when he came on.

While the Boks took a step forward against Australia, I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a step backwards against the All Blacks. It was more of a reality check. I think the Boks can deliver a lot more than they have shown. They offered glimpses of their true potential and good signs of improvement against Australia. However, they were simply outclassed against New Zealand.

I don’t concur with pundits who suggest the Springboks should model their game on the All Blacks or anybody else for that matter. I think we should rather develop a side capable of playing any style of rugby. I believe that we have the players to adapt our style in order to be successful. That said, our goalkicking needs to improve, our defence needs to sharpen up and also in terms of the way we play the game.

I think South Africa have a pack of forwards that can compete with anyone both in set-piece and close quarter play. However, the standard-bearer at the breakdown is New Zealand, whom we can learn from.

The current All Black side is outstanding and to be honest, I think they will beat the record of 17 consecutive Test wins. The All Blacks have a thread of continuity in coaching, some exceptional players and great leadership. They are at the moment head and shoulders above every other side in world rugby.

There is an advantage to contracting players centrally. We have to look for a win-win situation and perhaps the time has come for South Africa to re-examine our model. However, what I believe would solve the problem is a global season, where your domestic representative rugby (Currie Cup) is played in the first three months. Your cross-border rugby (Super Rugby) takes place over the next three months and the following three months are reserved for Test rugby.

The end of year tour will give us more of an idea of where the Boks are at. Everything is still new and fresh; with the side having only just begun their journey. I think a fair time to judge the side would be after a year has elapsed.

Turning to the clash in Argentina, I felt the Wallabies did really well to win. They were at sixes and sevens with injuries, but showed a lot of character to guts it out. Overall, it was a difficult campaign for them, but one has to take note that injuries to key players really hurt them, as there is not great depth within Australian rugby.

The Pumas did very well in their maiden campaign. It was the first time they played at this level of competition, and it proved a very positive first showing. They drew with the Boks, narrowly lost to Australia in both tests and they only had one performance where they were overwhelmed.

It’s great for rugby globally that Argentina is now involved. Their exposure to top-level competition is only going to improve them at all levels.

My team of the tournament:

15. Israel Dagg (NZ)
An exceptional attacking player and game breaker of note.

14. Bryan Habana (SA)
Back to his best form, experienced and still electric.

13. Conrad Smith (NZ)
Blessed with an outstanding rugby brain, is extremely skilled and his judgment is superb.    

12. Ma’a Nonu (NZ)
Offers a huge physical presence, good evasive skills and compliments Smith.

11. Digby Ioane (AUS)
He is exceptional and has that certain X-factor.

10. Dan Carter (NZ)
The complete package. To young flyhalves learning the game, just go and watch him play!

9. Will Genia (AUS)
Dangerous around the edges of rucks, with a good boot and service. Offers strong leadership qualities.

8. Kieran Read (NZ)
A complete player. Great skills, decision-making and a good lineout forward.

7. Richie McCaw (NZ - captain)
The model for an openside flank. He’s good on the ground, the lineout and links well in open play. I think he will go down as the greatest All Black captain of all time.

6. Liam Messam (NZ)
Has great skills from playing Sevens, yet physical and direct with a tremendous work rate. Rounds off an all-New Zealand loose trio, which compliments each other very well.

5. Patricio Albacete (ARG)
Enjoyed a strong tournament and was always influential.

4. Sam Whitelock (NZ)
A rugged player and an effective middle of the lineout jumper.

3. Jannie du Plessis (SA)
Had a very good series and did really well in the scrums.

2. Adriaan Strauss (SA)
His core roles were excellent. Strong scrummager, lineout thrower, and mobile ball carrier.

1. Tendai Mtawarira (SA)
Perhaps wasn’t always in the form he’s capable of, but I would pick the front row as a combination. The Springbok front row did really well this series.


16. Keven Mealamu (NZ)
17. Owen Franks (NZ)
18. Eben Etzebeth (SA)
19. Duane Vermeulen (SA)
20. Aaron Smith (NZ)
21. Juan Martin Hernandez (ARG)
22. Jean de Villiers (SA)

Head coach: Steve Hansen (NZ)
He has done a great job and deserves to get the nod.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

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