Ryan Crotty says the All Blacks will look to exploit the weakness in the Springbok defensive system when the two heavyweights clash at Loftus Versfeld. JON CARDINELLI reports from Johannesburg.
The All Blacks have always respected the Boks. Indeed, while the South Africans have struggled in recent times – slumping to a 57-15 loss in Durban in 2016 and a 57-0 defeat in Albany last year – the men in black have gone out of their way to talk up their opponents as well as the rivalry itself.
Then the Boks went and beat the All Blacks in Wellington. The Boks scored five tries, but more was made of a ‘new’ system that sought to use defence as a weapon. The upshot was a win for the Boks and a lesson for the All Blacks regarding the chinks in their own formidable armour.
Suddenly there’s a new edge about the rivalry. Critics in South Africa, New Zealand and Europe are talking about the Boks as a rising giant. While there is a lot of respect for what Steve Hansen’s All Blacks have achieved since 2012, it’s clear that their aura of invincibility has been shattered.
The All Blacks clearly don’t like it. They’re desperate to set the record straight.
‘You could see the hurt in the change room after that game in Wellington,’ said Crotty, one of the leaders in the team. ‘There was a feeling that we let them back into the game at the end. We always believed we would get it done, but then we didn’t. That’s what hurts.
‘We took some lessons from that match. We could have executed better. As a leadership group, we learned how important the connections between each other are. Those connections feed into our decision-makers and influence the game plan, the flow of the game and so on.’
South Africa made 235 tackles in Wellington. The linespeed of the defenders forced the All Blacks to lose momentum and in some instances, cough up possession.
The All Blacks appeared surprised by the Bok tactics. In the aftermath, some made the point that the No 1 side in the world was unlikely to make the same mistakes in the rematch staged in Pretoria.
Crotty admitted that the All Blacks’ attacking strategy has been tweaked since that match in Wellington. The centre said that the Boks would be unwise to back the same defensive pattern, as there are a few weaknesses in that system that an accurate opposition team could well exploit.
‘They’re bringing a little more linespeed to the contest than they did before,’ he said. ‘We took some learnings from that game and implemented them when we played against Argentina last week [the All Blacks scored five tries in the 35-17 win].
‘We have to keep taking things forward ahead of this week’s Test. We will take note of how things went when the Boks played against Australia.
‘In that kind of defensive system, there’s always an opportunity. So I guess it’s about exploiting that on Saturday.’
For four years, the Boks lost to the All Blacks home and away. Then the result in Wellington ended the drought as well as the talk that one of the sport’s great rivalries is dead.
‘That gloss [of the rivalry] has always been there for us,’ said Crotty. ‘They’re one of the best Test sides in the world.
‘I think that talk about the rivalry is something the media here [in South Africa] has put on them. We’ve always respected them, though. They’ve got some class players across the field and it’s always a challenge when we come up against them.’
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 2, 2018
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images