Boks edge NZ in ONE area!

2016-06-23 12:12
Pieter-Steph du Toit (Gallo)

Cape Town – Remember the days of truly neck-and-neck Test matches between the Springboks and All Blacks, and the pre-game difficulties in predicting where one might command supremacy over the other in the positional battles?

Wags could argue, based on an increasingly lopsided post-isolation results column in favour of the New Zealanders (38-15, one draw), that that era is very much a thing of the past anyway.

But if you were a South African wishing to believe, under the current climate, that the Boks are capable of matching or even eclipsing their old rivals in 2016, what you had seen from the teams’ respective June international tasks thus far would hardly give you grounds for fresh hope as the Rugby Championship sneaks ever closer.

If anything, the first two Tests of the All Blacks’ series against Wales (they lead by an unassailable 2-0) and the opening pair by the Boks against notably under-strength Ireland (1-1), only hint that New Zealand will pile further angst on South Africa this year.

The world champions haven’t entirely reached their sparkling best yet, but nevertheless put the Welsh away by 18 and 14 points respectively, leaving Steve Hansen the luxury of fielding a very experimental combo for the dead rubber in Dunedin on Saturday.

What has been particularly ominous, from a South African point of view, is the gulf in quality between the traditional foes thus far, even if it is obviously not ideal to make comparisons when they aren’t directly up against each other, and it does have to be taken into account that the Boks are adjusting to life under a new coach.

But think about the various departments on the field: where can you suggest with conviction, on this very day, that the Boks are either level or superior to the All Blacks on paper?

Here’s my own appraisal:

Back three

The Boks are struggling here, especially with the still classy and committed Bryan Habana absent (at least for the time being). Willie le Roux and JP Pietersen are well short of their best levels, whilst Lwazi Mvovo had a defensive shocker for 40 minutes in Johannesburg before debutant Ruan Combrinck provided welcome doses of urgency and skill. As for NZ, in the ever-silky Ben Smith at fullback and muscular speedsters like Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea patrolling the wider regions, there are simply no woes (unless you can somehow, routinely get their wingers going backwards, of course). Advantage: NZ.  


Considering that they have had to replace both Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu this year, the All Blacks seem to be doing just fine, thanks, via relative newcomers like Malakai Fekitoa and Ryan Crotty … and a certain ‘SBW’ available again for the Championship soon. The Boks? Damian de Allende remains worryingly below his glittering 2015 mojo, with defensive issues evident, whilst Lionel Mapoe has been solid rather than spectacular as he acclimatises to the outside channel at Test level. Advantage: NZ.


It’s fairly reassuring to see the sparky Lions duo of Faf de Klerk (largely convincing at No 9 thus far) and Elton Jantjies starting to work their magic at the next tier up, even if the Coetzee tactical template differs a bit from the Johan Ackermann one. Hopefully consistent selection will bring even greater rewards from the pair soon? But they still play second fiddle, I’d say, to the sublime Aaron Smith at scrumhalf for the All Blacks and either of Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett in the No 10 shirt. Advantage: NZ.

Loose forwards

This has been a department where the Boks, usually so blessed with resources and used to dominating most foes, have been dreadfully disappointing in the first two June Tests. Both of the usually gnarly Duane Vermeulen (also injury-impeded, mind) and Francois Louw have been well less than special, and Siya Kolisi is similarly getting too much wrong – like losing the ball in contact – as a blindside flank. There is a fairly rightful clamour for Messrs Whiteley and Kriel to pep things up more meaningfully in a once-proud area. Meanwhile new NZ skipper Kieran Read has been awesome at No 8 against Wales, and scribes in that country are already raving in the early post-McCaw era about the value Sam Cane and Ardie Savea bring as open-side marauders. Advantage (especially sadly!): NZ.


Phew, at least we can say here’s one department where the Boks look handsomely stocked for the entire cycle to RWC 2019. Stormers powerhouses Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit are now imposing themselves as a combo at Test level too, Lood de Jager is in the wings albeit crocked right now, and Franco Mostert shone as a valiant workhorse in a few late minutes off the splinters at Ellis Park last weekend. The All Blacks are hardly poorly served by premier pair Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano … but for broader resources at present, the SA picture is arguably more promising. Advantage: SA.

Front row

Another area where the Boks historically like to walk (or is it stomp?) with a special swagger, it’s been less than plain sailing against Ireland thus far, hasn’t it? Tendai Mtawarira rather idles along at loosehead, highly-rated Frans Malherbe has been leaking expensive penalties in the No 3 shirt, and the debate around whether new captain Adriaan Strauss possesses the aura of France-based Bismarck du Plessis at hooker still rages as he’s been below par performance-wise. With Dane Coles on the up and up in NZ’s No 2 jersey and a solid core of props, I’m afraid the Boks can’t currently claim supremacy. Advantage: NZ.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  elton jantjies  |  rugby


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