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Jon Cardinelli

Preview: Springboks vs All Blacks


Bismarck du Plessis tackles Dan Carter Bismarck du Plessis tackles Dan Carter

JON CARDINELLI analyses the key match-ups and picks the winner of the Castle Rugby Championship decider at Ellis Park on Saturday.

My heart says that the 62,000 fans at Ellis Park will make a difference. It says that the energy inside the ground – and let's face it, you don't want to be caught wearing a black jersey at the spiritual home of South African rugby – will be working against the New Zealanders.

If I'm making this call based purely on what my heart says, then the All Blacks don't have a chance of winning this Saturday.

However, my head reminds me that there's more to the scenario than simply winning the game. A losing bonus point for the All Blacks is all they need to win the title – and a rare victory at a ground that has rarely been kind to Kiwi visitors.

As All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said on Thursday, there is everything to be gained from winning the game. It's for this reason that the All Blacks won't hold back. They will do enough to get close to one of their goals. They will lose this Saturday, but in striving for the win, they will do enough to prevent the Boks from winning the title.

The Bok forwards, spearheaded by the irrepressible Bismarck du Plessis, will set the platform for a famous victory. Contrary to what has been said this week, the Boks will play the game close to their forwards. They will kick for territory and then use that powerful maul and scrum to subdue the All Blacks.

They will take the points on offer until they have built up a substantial lead. Only then will they push for the four tries.

To push for the bonus point in the first half would be counter-productive. The Boks are the one side in the world that can challenge the All Blacks physically. If they were to play the game in the wider channels and not make use of that belligerent pack, it would be a terrible waste of their assets.

The All Blacks boast the best defence and the best kicking game in the world, and they have combined these strengths to subdue and conquer every contender.

If the Boks spill the ball while trying to up the tempo and run from all corners, the All Blacks will counter-attack. They will make the Boks pay.

I'm sure the Boks won't be so foolish. Du Plessis has returned to the starting line-up and will be the talisman in just about every forward discipline. If he can impose himself with ball in hand, and at the defensive breakdowns, the Boks will have a significant edge. If he combines well with his locks at the lineout, the Boks will set that juggernaut of a maul and will be impossible to contain.

Will referee Nigel Owens let the Boks play this weekend? It has been a hot topic in the build-up, and I agree that every referee has the potential to influence the game. We saw that at Eden Park three weeks ago.

The Boks need to take the referee out of the equation. I remember Francois Louw making the comment after the Boks' limp performance against Scotland in June that if the Boks were physical enough at the collisions and accurate enough at the breakdowns, the referee would reward their dominance.

Louw will come up against Richie McCaw this Saturday. While this is a case of the form player fronting an all-time great, Louw will not concern himself with such labels. He got the best of McCaw on the back of a dominant Bok performance in Dunedin last year, and he'll do the same in Johannesburg this Saturday.

Morné Steyn will have a big role to play, not only in front of goal, but with ball in hand. The tactical kicking of Fourie du Preez and Steyn will be under scrutiny, but they can thank their lucky stars that Dan Carter is not available for this clash. It will make their task of winning the tactical battle far easier.

Steyn's distribution will also be under the spotlight. He's not a natural runner of the ball, and while that backline has taken great strides on attack this year, they still have some way to go.

The Bok forwards will set the platform, but it could be too much to ask for the backs to score four tries against an All Blacks defence that hasn't leaked four since October 2010.

But we shouldn't get hung up on the Boks' probable failure to secure a bonus point.

It would go down as one of the great rugby stories – even greater than that of the Bulls putting 92 points past the Reds in 2007 after a stirring speech from Heyneke Meyer – but a narrow win, even without the bonus point, would be something to celebrate.

Any sort of win would see the Boks making a statement. Referee Romain Poite denied the rugby fraternity a potentially great contest in the first match against the All Blacks in Auckland, but I don't think we will be robbed of our grand occasion this Saturday. What's more, everybody will walk away from this contest with an accolade.

The All Blacks will win the Rugby Championship, while the Boks will win the match. The latter achievement may be far more significant in the grander scheme of things, as it will make a big statement about who is the best team in the world, now and in the lead-up to the 2014 season.

MY CALL: Boks to win by 10, but to fall short of the title

Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht/Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein/Juan de Jongh.

All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau.

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Photo: Sandra Mu/Getty Images

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