The Springboks will need to win the smaller battles before they win the war against the All Blacks in Albany on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Are the All Blacks truly vulnerable, as Bok coach Allister Coetzee has suggested? I was asked to list five areas in which the team is potentially fragile or weak. I struggled to come up with more than two.
The odds are against the Boks ending an eight-year losing streak in New Zealand this Saturday. South Africa have won three Tests in this part of the world in 21 years. The current Bok team is missing several key players due to injuries and is still developing as a unit.
That said, the Boks may push the All Blacks close if they tick the following boxes:
MEET THE SCRUM CHALLENGE
The All Blacks have lost two frontline props in Joe Moody and Owen Franks to injuries. Hooker Dane Coles is not the world’s strongest scrummager. That said, the Boks have lost their first- and second-choice tightheads with Frans Malherbe ruled out for the duration of the tournament and Coenie Oosthuizen recovering from a broken arm sustained in the recent Test against the Wallabies. The Boks will have to find a way to achieve parity at this set piece on Saturday, though. As assistant coach Johann van Graan pointed out on Tuesday, the All Blacks scrum has set the platform for many a try in 2017. Much will be expected of Trevor Nyakane, who has yet to convince as a scrummaging tighthead at Test level, as well as Ruan Dreyer, who has just one Test cap to his name.
DISRUPT THE ALL BLACKS’ LINEOUT
How many times have we seen the Kiwis employing the rolling maul, at Test level and in Super Rugby? The Boks have to find a way to stop the All Blacks at source. The Crusaders, led by All Blacks No 5 Sam Whitelock, bested the Lions at the lineout in the 2017 Super Rugby final in Johannesburg. Prior to that, Lions and Bok lock Franco Mostert had racked up the best stats in the tournament for lineout wins and steals. In Mostert, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit the Boks possess three strong contesters at the front and middle of the lineout. However, in the absence of Warren Whiteley and Duane Vermeulen, the Boks may lack the means to attack the All Blacks at the tail and stop Kieran Reid from sparking something special.
The British & Irish Lions asked questions of the All Blacks' set pieces and dominated the collisions at times. On the back of that performance, they rushed at the All Blacks backline and ultimately limited the attacking team's time and space to make effective decisions. We saw the Crusaders employing similar tactics when playing the Hurricanes in Super Rugby. The Crusaders won the set pieces and collisions and then their defenders rushed up to nullify Beauden Barrett. The All Blacks flyhalf was denied the space to run, pass, or even to kick-pass to any great effect. Coetzee says that the Boks have taken note of these tactics ahead of the showdown in Albany. Much of this ploy's success, of course, will hinge on the Boks' efforts up front.
Again, the success of this tactic will depend on the success of the Boks at the set pieces and collisions. The heavies will need to lay the platform and allow Ross Cronjé and Elton Jantjies the time and space to execute the team's kicking game. In the past, the Boks may have been wary of kicking on the All Blacks’ back three. Now that Ben Smith is unavailable and Israel Dagg is unlikely to feature this Saturday, the Boks may opt to pressure the All Blacks with a well-executed kick-chase strategy. Fullback Damian McKenzie has been less than secure under the high ball in 2017. The Bok wingers will have a key role to play in terms of contesting for the high ball and winning back possession for the visitors.
PUNISH THE ALL BLACKS’ ERRORS
The All Blacks have made 111 handling errors in three Rugby Championship Tests. This suggests that they have room for improvement, and that they will trouble the Bok defence with a more clinical attacking showing in Albany. However, a powerful Bok forward performance at the set pieces and collisions could force the All Blacks to make further mistakes on Saturday. From there, the Boks must make the most of the turnovers and translate opportunities into points. And if the All Blacks lose a man to the sin bin, as they did in the recent Test against Argentina, the Boks must make the one-man advantage count by scoring points during that period. The All Blacks tend to lift the tempo in the second stanza and score more points than the opposition. The Boks need to go into the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Test with a healthy lead if they are to have any chance of emerging with a rare win.
Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images
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