Boks must play ugly to win

The Springboks should stick with their traditional style of rugby for Saturday's match against the All Blacks in Wellington, writes MARK KEOHANE.

South Africans need to lose their obsession with wanting the Springboks to play like the All Blacks. It’s like wanting Germany to be Brazil.

New Zealand and South Africa have provided some of rugby’s greatest match-ups and some of the most intense drama on a rugby field.

And it’s because it’s a clash of contrasting styles, a vastly different emphasis on the game and because the psyche of the two rugby playing nations is inherently different.

Long may it be so.

The Kiwis would love us to forsake our strengths and try and match them in a ball-in-hand extravaganza … all in the name of supposedly providing a spectacle.

Leave that spectator nonsense to the Aussies, who need to convince their audience to watch rugby union instead of Aussie rules and rugby league.

The brutality, confrontation and battle of wills is what defines an All Blacks versus Springbok match-up.

Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones was chatting over a drink during his time with the Springboks in 2007. Jake White, myself and Eddie were among those chatting about rugby, the variety in the game and the cultural strengths of different nations.

Someone was blowing smoke up Eddie’s arse and said he only wished the Springboks would play more like the best Wallabies teams.

Eddie, without blinking said: ‘If Australia had the Springbok forwards and Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf, you’d probably never know who played at No 10 for Australia.’

His point was that we always want what we don’t have and we never look at what we do have.

The rest of the rugby-playing world wants the maul done away with. But if they did it with the menace and effectiveness of the best Springbok teams they’d be talking about the beauty of the drill.

Rugby would be rugby league if every team had the same style and it was merely a case of skill versus skill. It would be like those dreadful moments in rugby union when the game goes to uncontested scrums.

The scrum, the lineout and the breakdown is what makes this game special.

There is as much skill in playing field position as there is in taking the ball through 20 phases. It's all in the execution and in the result.

Teams whose halfbacks know when and how to kick for a 60m territorial gain are a joy to watch. Teams whose back-three know how to work off each other in the counter-attack and run support lines that link so effortlessly with a bunch of forwards are as much a joy to watch.

There is so much to appreciate about a good All Blacks team; similarly a good Springbok team.

The accusation of the Boks is that they can’t play an expansive game like the All Blacks. The criticism of the All Blacks was that they could never win ugly and that they couldn’t grind out a win.

When the All Blacks ground out a 22-19 win against Ireland in New Zealand and won through a last-minute drop goal, their rugby public condemned the performance and said the team got lucky. Similarly, the 8-7 World Cup final win against France.

So few were willing to applaud their team for the manner in which they fought to keep the ball in hand and count down the final three minutes. They played a game so foreign to their natural approach, in using only eight forwards and a halfback to advance their cause and to ensure the French did not get back the ball.

It wasn’t Aussie-type pretty but it was rugby-type beauty, at least to me it was.

The Springboks will take a hammering if they turn Saturday’s Test into a run fest.

The Boks need to call on every bit of Bok rugby tradition and play with intensity, with vigour and with absolute conviction until the final whistle. They need to play intelligent and risk-free rugby to get the win.

They have the pack to stifle the All Blacks' need for flow in their game. They need to play ugly to win beautifully.

The best Springbok teams have never lacked for an ability to score spectacular tries. The All Blacks do it more regularly, but more and more, Steve Hansen’s All Blacks have shown they can do it ugly, which doesn’t mean they are doing it the Springbok way.

The joy of this match-up is that two rugby nations, with the utmost respect for each other, back their way to be successful.

That’s why it's called a Test and that's why the two tribes play in different colours and bring a different cultural mentality to the occasion.

The Springboks versus All Blacks rivalry always reminds me of what makes this game so special. Both sides have rugby intelligence but both apply a different formula.

And they always have.

I only hope that the Boks remain true to what has always made the Springboks different to the All Blacks and don’t try and win friends in the name of supposedly evolving their game.

I want a brutal contest at the breakdown and I want to see which of the styles can triumph on the basis of the men wearing No 1 to 8.

Colleague Jon Cardinelli, in his preview, highlighted youngster Handré Pollard as the player who has to stand tallest.

I disagree. If the Bok pack, in the collisions, in the set piece and in their intelligence, stand taller than the All Blacks from the opening whistle until the final whistle, then it doesn’t matter who is wearing the No 10 jersey.

Similarly, the All Blacks.

Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images