Israel Dagg says the All Blacks defence will be as wary of the Springboks' counter-attacking ability as the visitors' kicking game at Eden Park this Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Auckland.
Prior to the start of the 2013 Test season, the Boks held a reputation for playing the percentages. Their ability to dominate physically and territorially was universally respected, although it was their shortcomings on attack that cost them in the big games against like-minded teams.
This season has been different in that the Boks have improved in the areas of attack and counter-attack. Indeed, 60% of their tries have been scored from turnover ball.
The All Blacks will need to match the Boks physically and guard against the likes of Francois Louw effecting those momentum-changing breakdown steals. Dagg reiterated this point when he spoke about the double threat that the Boks will pose.
'It's the biggest game we've had in a long time,' he said. 'The team that wins this game will have a good chance of winning the Rugby Championship.
'I love playing against the Boks. They usually look to put you under pressure with those high kicks, as well as those big kicks behind [the back three]. It's always a good test, but just lately they have been using the ball a lot more.
'I watched the Boks versus Australia game again yesterday. They can make a team look silly when they get it right.
'Players like Willie le Roux and Zane Kirchner are doing well at the back for them. We will need to lift our intensity for this clash, and personally I'm very excited about it.'
Ben Smith, who plays a lot of his rugby at fullback in Super Rugby, said he is also looking forward the challenge. The Boks are sure to test the All Blacks' back three with a series of high-hanging kicks, and the contest in the air will be made more difficult by the wet conditions.
Like Dagg, Smith also made mention of the Boks' newfound confidence with ball in hand.
'Have I noticed it? Mate, it's been hard not to,' he said in reference to the Boks' hammering of the Wallabies in Brisbane. 'They've struck a good balance between kicking and running. It will be a good test for our defence this Saturday. We have to deal with it if we want to win.'
Photo: Au-Yeung/Getty Images
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