The All Blacks' ever-improving attack and kicking game may expose a Springbok side that has failed to progress on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The All Blacks currently top the Rugby Championship standings. They could clinch the title this weekend with a bonus-point win against the Boks. A look at their attacking numbers gives one cause to believe that they will finish three tries ahead of the Boks – at the very least – and claim five log points.
According to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, the All Blacks currently top the attacking categories of points, tries, carries, clean breaks, defenders beaten, passes and offloads. If one compares the statistics of the first three matches of the 2016 Rugby Championship with those of the Tests played in last year's truncated tournament, one can see how they have lifted their game in just about every department.
Some might argue that the World Cup was the priority in 2015 and that the All Blacks weren't completely committed to winning the Rugby Championship. However, it's still interesting to note just how much they have improved.
After three rounds in this year's competition, the All Blacks have scored 43 more points and eight more tries than they did during the three matches of the 2015 Rugby Championship. They've made 21 more clean breaks and 369 more metres.
Of course, they have not neglected the other areas of the game. The stats show how the All Blacks have completed 10 more kicks in play, and 11 more tackles. Their current tackle success rate of 91% is something to be celebrated.
The All Blacks have mastered the art of transitioning from defence to attack. One would expect them to pressure the Boks in Christchurch this Saturday, and to enjoy further success.
While the All Blacks have improved, the Boks have not. The Boks have scored the same number of tries after three matches (seven). They currently rank third in the competition for clean breaks and metres made, and last for offloads.
Of more concern is the Boks' defensive record. Currently, the Boks have a tackle success rate of 85%. They have missed 55 tackles in three matches (two against Argentina, and one against Australia). If their defence has battled to contain the likes of Argentina and Australia, can we really expect them to stop the All Blacks attack?
Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies have missed eight tackles between them in this year's Rugby Championship. The Bok halfbacks will surely be targeted by the All Blacks this Saturday.
All Blacks winger Julian Savea, who made four clean breaks, 121 metres and scored a try against Argentina last Saturday, will relish the opportunity to run at the Boks defence.
The visitors have said that they don't plan to focus on All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett. However, it would be foolish to ignore the threat of a player who has burned white-hot in 2016.
Barrett have made the most try assists and beaten the most defenders. He is ranked second for the most clean breaks in this year's tournament.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images