The Springboks will need to contain the multitalented Beauden Barrett if they’re to have any chance of beating the All Blacks at Ellis Park, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Win the tactical-kicking battle, and you will win the war. This is the message coming from within the Bok camp as they prepare to lay siege to the All Blacks on the battlefield of Ellis Park.
It says plenty for the All Blacks' structures that they will field their third-choice flyhalf this weekend, and still present such a threat on attack and with the boot. Dan Carter is currently sidelined with a long-term injury, while Aaron Cruden has been suspended. In Beauden Barrett, however, the All Blacks still possess a world-class flyhalf.
This is not the view held by only one writer. The Bok players and coaches know all too well about Barrett and his game-changing abilities. In 2013, he cut a short-handed Bok defence to shreds at Eden Park, and was just as devastating in the follow-up fixture in Johannesburg.
The 2014 Super Rugby tournament saw Barrett taking his game to the next level. Barrett kicked more than any other flyhalf in the competition, and yet, the Hurricanes were still one of the tournament leaders in terms of tries scored. The accuracy of those tactical kicks was what won the Hurricanes territory, and in some instances created further scoring opportunities.
With Carter and Cruden ruled out, Barrett now has a chance to start against New Zealand’s toughest opponents. If he receives a good platform, he will be dangerous with ball in hand, and will also test the Bok back three with some raking punts.
The Boks must pressure the All Blacks pack this weekend, and in doing so, limit Barrett’s space. They need to win the set-piece battles as well as the tussle at the tackle, and ensure that the New Zealand halfbacks receive no front-foot ball. This will impact on Aaron Smith and Barrett's decision-making and execution, and may lead to errors.
The Boks are looking for a straight win this weekend, and this will see them playing a less risky game. It’s a smart approach, as a more expansive game plan will only play into the All Blacks hands. As dangerous as the Kiwis are when they attack from the set piece, they are even better from turnover ball.
South Africa gambled in the corresponding fixture in 2013, but then they were chasing the four-try bonus point. While they ran in four tries, they made a series of mistakes in their endeavour to create scoring chances. The All Blacks then punished the Boks by scoring five tries of their own.
The Boks must avoid repeating the mistakes of 2013 at Ellis Park this Saturday. They have the personnel to win the set pieces, although the lineout will be closely contested with the greatest ever second rower, Victor Matfield, facing off against the form No 5 of the past three years, Sam Whitelock.
A win for the Boks at the breakdown is also not guaranteed. They’re missing two key loose forwards in Francois Louw and Willem Alberts, and will be further hampered if Duane Vermeulen can’t perform to the required standard because of a rib injury.
The Bok halfbacks need to make any forward dominance count. Meyer has highlighted the tactical-kicking battle as result-determining, but again it’s significant that the Boks are without the personnel for the task.
Francois Hougaard’s natural strengths are more suited to an open game, and while Handré Pollard has shown promise, his tactical-kicking game is not where it should be. Meyer said as much on Wednesday.
The Boks are desperate for a victory against the All Blacks, and will be lifted by the capacity crowd at Ellis Park. Veterans like Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis, Schalk Burger and Matfield will ensure that the Boks get very close to achieving their objective.
It would be more than a terrific consolation. It would ensure that the Boks take some belief into next year’s World Cup. It would be great for world rugby if the Boks could hand the All Blacks their first defeat since December 2012.
It’s possible, but improbable. While the Boks have improved this season, they are currently missing too many players in key positions. For them to knock over the greatest rugby team of the modern era would be something special, but I fear that they may fall short yet again.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 51, Springboks 34, Draw 3
In Johannesburg*: Springboks 8, All Blacks 6
*Including two at Soccer City
BARRETT’S STATS THAT MATTER
6 – The number of times he kicked from hand in round five of the Rugby Championship (Rank 3)
189 – The number of times he kicked from hand in Super Rugby (Rank 1)
209 – The number of points scored in Super Rugby (Rank 2)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Duane Vermeulen/Schalk Burger, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Schalk Burger/Warren Whiteley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 JP Pietersen.
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images