The Springboks’ poor second-half performances should be cause for concern ahead of a clash with an All Blacks team that specialises in late surges, writes JON CARDINELLI in Durban.
The All Blacks’ performance in Buenos Aires on Saturday was the exception to the rule. New Zealand scored 29 points and four tries in the first half of that match. Uncharacteristically, they were outscored 14-7 in the second stanza.
It’s not often that the All Blacks fail to accelerate in the latter stages of the game. Indeed, in the nine Tests played against the Boks since 2012, New Zealand have outscored South Africa by five points or more in the second half on each and every occasion. Even when the Boks beat New Zealand in 2014, it was the men in black who led 12-6 in the final 40 minutes.
The Boks tend to fade in the final 20 minutes of a match. By contrast, the All Blacks move up a gear as the game races towards its climax.
In the past nine matches against South Africa, New Zealand have averaged eight points in the last 20 minutes. It’s a considerable amount when one considers that there have been some close finishes over the past five years.
Some context is needed when assessing the All Blacks’ most recent showing in Buenos Aires. Coach Steve Hansen made as many as nine changes to the matchday squad ahead of the clash in the Argentina capital. Hansen made it clear at the team announcement last week that he had one eye on the subsequent match against the Boks in Durban, and the other on the third Bledisloe Cup Test against the Wallabies.
New Zealand have won the last two World Cups. More recently, they won the Rugby Championship after just four rounds. And yet, according to those close to the team, the All Blacks remain bent on claiming that elusive record of 18 consecutive Test wins.
The Boks beat the Wallabies 18-10 last Saturday to end a three-game losing streak. Afterwards, coach Allister Coetzee spoke of the team’s character and skill, even though the Boks had leaked 21 tackles and had failed to score a single try.
The Boks outscored the Wallabies 6-0 in the second half. Of course, the scoring of six points in 40 minutes of rugby is nothing to celebrate. Indeed, the Boks have battled in the second half for much of the season.
The All Blacks led 15-10 at half-time in Christchurch three weeks ago. The Bok coaches have spoken often about this over the past few days, as the players feel they were actually within a chance of winning the game. The final scoreline of 41-13, however, makes a mockery of the sentiment, as does the Boks’ record against the All Blacks in the final quarter of the past nine matches.
The Boks led 14-13 at half-time in Brisbane, but went on to lose 23-17. The scoreline in the final quarter was 7-3 in favour of the Wallabies.
The Boks proved to be the fitter and more composed side in the Test against Argentina in Nelspruit. Even though they went down to the Pumas in Salta, the Boks outscored the hosts 8-3 in the final quarter.
Against Australia and New Zealand, however, the Boks’ fitness and composure have been exposed. And if they don’t find a way to address their shortcomings in the coming week, they may well suffer another heavy and significant defeat to the All Blacks.
There was a storm here in Durban on Sunday evening, and more wet weather is expected for the day of the Test at Kings Park. Perhaps this will serve as a leveller. Perhaps the All Blacks will be stifled and the Boks will escape with a light beating.
If not, the Boks could be in for another hiding. They lost by 28 points in Christchurch to record their heaviest defeat in five years. At home, however, the Boks have always been more competitive. They lost 52-16 to the All Blacks in Pretoria in 2003, and that result marks the only time the Boks have lost by more than 19 points at home in the professional era.
Incidentally, the All Blacks have won each and every one of their five Rugby Championship Tests this year by 19 points or more. After they beat the Wallabies 29-9 in Wellington and the Pumas 36-17 in Buenos Aires, they stated that they could have been sharper. They weren't satisfied.
Indeed, there were many who claimed that the All Blacks were not at the top of their game when they put six tries and 41 points past the Boks in Christchurch.
All of this bodes badly for a Bok side that has been battling for points, tries and wins for much of the season. The Boks should be up for the physical battle in the first half this coming Saturday, but the real test will be in the latter stages when the All Blacks shift gear.
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