The Springboks have made their kicking and defensive intentions clear ahead of the campaign-shaping match against the All Blacks on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo reports.
The conditions will shape the contest in Yokohama and the team that makes the fewest errors may well emerge victorious. There’s been a lot of rain in the Tokyo region over the past week or so, and more rain is forecast for the coming weekend.
‘We’ve been in Japan for two weeks,’ said Springbok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk on Monday. ‘We know the conditions.
‘We’re going to play a wet-weather type of game. We’re going to try and contest in the air. It’s going to come down to turnovers and who uses their opportunities the best.’
It wasn’t surprising to hear that the Boks are sharpening their kicking and defensive game in the lead-up to a weather-affected World Cup clash with one of the strongest tactical sides on the planet.
What did raise a few eyebrows at the media conference on Monday was De Klerk’s suggestion that the Boks will target the All Blacks at No 9 and 10.
‘They’re a very well-structured team. It doesn’t matter who starts at scrumhalf. Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara play with a lot of freedom. They run good lines, they offer great kicking options and are great on defence.
‘The challenge for me is to put them under pressure,’ De Klerk said. ‘A lot of their play revolves around No 9 and 10, so if we can put that link under pressure we can force a few errors.’
Lukhanyo Am boasts a reputation within South African rugby circles as one of the sharpest minds in the game. While he hasn’t played a lot of Tests over the past two years, he’s made a notable difference to how the team exploits and shuts down space.
‘We can do better, though,’ Am admitted. ‘When you’re up against a New Zealand side that likes to play with the ball in hand, you don’t want to give that team too much time on the ball. You need to do your homework and put the structure in place in terms of being high on D.
‘With the linespeed, there will be times when the All Blacks have opportunities. For us, as a defensive side we must try to minimise those.
‘The defence complements the attack,’ the Bok No 13 explained. ‘When you make a turnover and then attack, you can put opposition teams under pressure.
‘We’re trying to balance it out. Obviously you can’t defend for 80 minutes, you have to take your opportunities on attack when they arise.’
De Klerk reiterated that the Boks must be ready to adapt against a versatile All Blacks side.
Indeed, it’s not a matter of if the All Blacks will kick in wet conditions, but when and where.
‘They kicked a lot of box kicks in the game we played against them at Loftus Versfeld last year,’ said De Klerk. ‘They kicked long on us in the other game.
‘We will have to figure out early on in the contest what their game is and how we need to adapt. In the wet conditions, they might go for the box kick a bit more. They might get a bit more reward and stick to that.
‘If we can handle it and get them off their game, that will be great.’
The Bok cause will be aided by several players who are used to competing in such conditions. De Klerk plays his rugby for Sale Sharks in England, while Frans Steyn and Willie le Roux have also enjoyed club stints in the northern hemisphere.
‘It’s a little bit of an advantage playing in Europe,’ said De Klerk. You’re exposed to all sorts of conditions and you have to adapt.
‘Now we’re over here in Japan and we will have to face all of this. I think that we’re well equipped to do so with the experience and quality in our side.’
Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP