Bok kickers in spotlight

The Springboks must counter the All Blacks’ formidable kicking game in order to win at Ellis Park this Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.

This All Blacks side is the most dominant of the professional era, a statement that's supported by an unbeaten record that stretches back to the start of the 2013 season. Richie McCaw’s men have led the way in every facet over the past 18 months, and that includes tactical kicking.

The All Blacks kick more than any other Test side on the planet. What sets them apart from other good teams like the Boks and Wallabies is that the All Blacks kick more accurately and at the right time of the contest.

The point was reiterated by Bok assistant coach Ricardo Loubscher on Monday. The Boks are preparing for a Test against the All Blacks, and are well aware of what they need to do to improve their chances of beating New Zealand for the first time since 2011.

The South African forwards will need to fire, and halfbacks Francois Hougaard and Handré Pollard will need to translate that possession into territory and possibly scoring opportunities.

‘We’ve been striving for the right balance between kicking and running for some time,’ said Loubscher. ‘It’s not whether you kick or not, but rather when you kick and how you kick.

‘When you’re playing against a team like the All Blacks, you can’t afford to kick the ball away aimlessly. As we have seen, they have the ability to punish poor kicks.’

Loubscher praised the performance of Hougaard in the recent clash against the Wallabies. He also made mention of Pollard’s progress at this level, and how a more experienced player like Pat Lambie is so valuable in the latter stages of a contest.

The Boks have lost Fourie du Preez for the season due to an ankle injury, while Ruan Pienaar has also been sidelined. Both of these players boast a great kicking game, while Hougaard is a player whose strengths are more suited to a ball-in-hand approach.

Loubscher, however, feels that Hougaard will be able to contribute in a more tactical battle against the All Blacks, and that the Boks as a defensive collective will deal with the pressure applied by the All Blacks’ kickers.

‘I don’t think it makes a massive difference [that Hougaard is now starting at No 9],’ he said. ‘We always plan to go out there and play positively. The conditions were good at Newlands, and that allowed us to play more with ball in hand.

‘It depends on the situation, and your decision-making has to be spot on [when in possession]. Decision-making will be more important than ever when we play the All Blacks this weekend.

‘Defensively, there will be pressure with the All Blacks looking to kick in behind you or when they put up the box kick. We will need to handle that on Saturday.’

Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

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Jon Cardinelli