JON CARDINELLI looks at what the Springboks need to do to keep their slim chances of winning the Rugby Championship alive.
STRONGEST STARTING XV
Rassie Erasmus has made it clear that he intends to explore further options in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup. That is all well and good. However, the Boks will strike a couple of psychological blows in the context of the global tournament – and if things go their way in Argentina, perhaps win the Rugby Championship title – if they beat Australia and New Zealand over the next two weeks.
There’s been talk of starting Damian Willemse at fullback against the Wallabies on Saturday. It may seem a good choice in the context of developing depth ahead of next year’s World Cup. Another argument could be made for giving the first-choice back-three combination of Willie le Roux, S’bu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi more time to gel. The latter two players made their Test debuts earlier this season, while the combination has only started on three occasions to date.
Erasmus also needs to take injuries into consideration. The midfield combination of André Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel is South Africa’s best bet, but only because Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am are out injured, Frans Steyn is unavailable and Jan Serfontein is making his way back from a serious ailment.
Including Le Roux at fullback will lend the back three, as well as the backline as a whole, a more experienced look.
The Bok breakdown tactics were spot on in the Test against the All Blacks in Wellington. The ability to make good decisions at the rucks in the coming game against the Wallabies will once again hinge on dominance at the collisions.
The Boks have to nullify David Pocock at the breakdown. Prop Steven Kitshoff made this point on Tuesday. The Boks cannot expect to attack on the front foot, or rush up on defence if they aren’t controlling the tempo via an accurate and superior breakdown performance.
The Boks were hailed as heroes after they beat the All Blacks. New Zealand enjoyed an overwhelming amount of possession and dominated territory for much of the game. When one looks at the stats, one wonders how the All Blacks didn’t translate more of that into points.
The Boks can’t afford to spend the majority of this week’s game camped in their own half. The likes of Faf de Klerk and Handré Pollard, as well as Elton Jantjies when he enters the fray, will need to be more accurate with their probes for territory. The box-kick can be an effective ground-gaining tactic, providing the kick itself is accurate and the chasers beat the opposition in the air.
DEFENDING THE GAP
The Boks defended like demons in Wellington, but still conceded six tries. An improvement in that respect is needed if the Boks are going to beat the Wallabies by a convincing margin and claim a bonus point.
The point was made earlier this week that the Boks have to start producing physical and accurate performances from the outset. They have shown that they can chase a game – a tribute to their improving fitness – and they can close out the tight contests.
We’ve seen the Boks score some outstanding tries. Maintaining the three-try gap this week, however – and claiming a much-needed bonus point – will require a consistent 80-minute defensive performance.
AN ARGENTINIAN MIRACLE
Look, an upset in Buenos Aires on Saturday is unlikely. The All Blacks have too much power up front, and too much class out wide. They also have a point to prove after their poor showing against the Boks in Wellington.
That said, we thought the Boks were favourites when they travelled to Mendoza earlier in the tournament. We thought that the Wallabies would see off the Pumas in the most recent clash on the Gold Coast.
Argentina do love to spoil a party, and perhaps another spoiling session could work to the Boks’ advantage.
If the Boks win with a bonus point in Port Elizabeth and the All Blacks only manage to salvage a losing bonus point from their journey to Buenos Aires, then the two sides will head into the final clash in Pretoria with 15 and 17 log points respectively.
It’s an unlikely scenario, but there have already been some unlikely results in this year’s tournament.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images