Cape Town - It’s
a difficult job pinpointing which cluster of individual one-on-ones to
particularly highlight for Saturday’s mouth-watering Wellington clash between
grand old foes the All Blacks and Springboks (09:35 SA time).
every positional duel has its tantalising aspects, a situation enhanced by the high
level to which sprightly, dominating performances could influence starting
berths in the respective sides at the bigger-picture RWC 2019 in Japan - and
their virtually instant bilateral “rematch” in Pool B on September 21.
But here is
my own selection of appealing ones for the Cake Tin tussle, marked in some
instances by daring, quirky selection from respective coaches Steve Hansen and
Rassie Erasmus ...
Willie le Roux v Beauden Barrett
Both sets of
back threes look enormously geared for attacking potency, so it is just
possible we’ll see a repeat (or something not too far off that) of last
season’s 11-try spectacle at the same venue, when the Boks prevailed 36-34
despite NZ nosing out the dot-downs 6-5.
respective fullbacks may well be the catalysts for much of what is positive and
dynamic from those areas, given their in-built penchants for flair and
will almost certainly plan to seriously examine twinkle-toed Barrett’s
suitability to No 15 duty in his intriguing mere third exposure (he has 74 caps
as things stand) to the last line of defence; he remains probably their
first-choice option at No 10 if, for instance, a World Cup final featuring them
were played tomorrow.
two prior starts at No 15, remember, have both come against lesser foes: Italy
in Rome in 2012 and Japan in Tokyo a year later.
more generous space available to him at times should keep the Bok defence very
much on its toes, how he fares positionally and in a defensive capacity - the
lean customer ought to have to deal with a fifty-fifty “bomb” or two - will be
closely monitored by friend and foe.
just some three weeks shy of his 30th birthday, has enjoyed all of
his last 39 Boks starts strictly in the last line of defence - he had a few
early-career caps at wing - so is the more settled presence of the two by some
distance and was a significant offensive threat in last year’s Wellington
Handre Pollard v Richie Mo’unga
No pivot in
Super Rugby 2019 could emphatically claim to have been better than the Bulls’
admirably consistent Pollard, despite the quality of the tournament-wide field.
enter this, his 40th Test, on a wave of confidence and backed by his
record of often producing some of his most assertive rugby (even if not always
in triumph) against these top-notch opponents.
not only banging over his place-kicks with near-clockwork precision, but taking
the ball to the gain-line with gusto and making his tackles firmly in a key
area of the park, into the bargain.
expecting initially to encounter old international direct foe Barrett in the
channel on Saturday, instead he comes up against Crusaders maestro Mo’unga,
earning a wonderful chance to impress there in his 10th All Black
appearance and only third start.
25-year-old from Christchurch featured briefly (and out of position) against
the Boks as a substitute at Loftus last season, but otherwise has no experience
of calling the shots at ten against the old enemy.
them, it will be interesting to see whether Mo’unga and Barrett can match the
traditional accuracy at posts of Pollard; the South African’s superior comfort
in that capacity in the Cake Tin last year went some way to explaining the
the No 10s, an important battle also takes place between the big inside
centres, Damian de Allende and Sonny Bill Williams, neither assured of
first-choice status there, come the World Cup …
Kwagga Smith v Matt Todd
Rassie’s big left-field pick: the presence of speedy, low-centre-of-gravity
Lions favourite Smith on the open-side flank for South Africa.
It is a
major (not to mention daunting) opportunity for him to atone for a so-so debut
in that questionable early-season “Test” against Wales in a wet Washington DC
poaching potential on the deck will be one area in which he is expected to
deliver meaningfully for the Boks, that ought not to be the be-all and end-all
of his involvement on Saturday - not by a long shot.
will expect more muscular souls like Malcolm Marx and Duane Vermeulen to get
busy over the ball as well, and Smith’s roaming, darting and linking qualities
could be deemed a vital extra feather in the Boks’ attack cap.
general mobility will make him a valued track-back figure on scrambling defence
against an All Black outfit eternally willing to produce wowing, ball-in-hand
But if he
does get dragged more necessarily into a get-the-fingernails-dirty role, he will
be within regular breathing distance of Crusaders stalwart Todd, a specialist
mole and all too often an understudy to Sam Cane (Ardie Savea tends to be
higher in the pecking order as well) for the NZ open-side chore.
31-year-old Todd, who learned much of his craft from Richie McCaw, has a
current 16-cap advantage over Bok rival Smith in Test appearances, though this
will be only his fifth from the outset of combat - one was the 57-15 drubbing
of the Springboks in Durban during the Allister Coetzee era.
Eben Etzebeth v Brodie Retallick
Yes, this is
an “old one” ... a bit like Saturday’s rival captains and No 8s, Kieran Read and
Duane Vermeulen is an “old one”.
scrap also assumes no less relevance this weekend than it traditionally does,
as the respective No 4 lock enforcers lock horns once again at the very highest
have racked up a few air miles to get to this one: Etzebeth turned out against
Australia at Ellis Park only last weekend before becoming the only Bok tight
forward to be asked to start once again in New Zealand, while Retallick was
also fronting up then against Argentina in a tense, industrial clash in Buenos
natural competitive juices should flow in no small measure, nevertheless, at
Westpac Stadium, where gains will be made a lot of the time in hard, bruising
yards ... especially in the first half.
both men will be earning their 77th caps, and Retallick presumably
intent on preserving his proud record against SA: all wins so far in 10
appearances (conveniently, he missed last year’s Cake Tin setback).
a humble 2/11 win record, by contrast, against the All Blacks. But everyone
also knows that that is through no special fault on his part - he always
hurtles into them full-bloodedly, come what may on the scoreboard.
Beauden Barrett; 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams,
11 Rieko Ioane; 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 TJ Perenara; 8 Kieran Read
(captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Shannon Frizell; 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie
Retallick; 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20
Dalton Papalii, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 George
15 Willie le Roux, 14
Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole
Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain),
7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben
Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG
Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse
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