Former captain Jean de Villiers believes the only way the Boks can beat the All Blacks in Durban this Saturday is by persisting with a pragmatic approach, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Durban.
Much has been made of the game plan that the Boks should be looking to employ at the start of a new era, with certain critics identifying that they have often seemed to be caught between styles of play this season.
Last week, there were certainly signs that the Boks were looking to revert to more traditional strengths as Rudy Paige and Morné Steyn came in as a new halfback pairing, with the hosts ultimately going on to grind out an 18-10 win over Australia.
Speaking at a Laureus Sport for Good function in Umhlanga on Thursday, De Villiers insisted that the Boks needed to replicate that sort of pragmatic performance if they were to have any hope of overcoming the undefeated All Blacks on Saturday.
‘You have to face reality, we are still trying to build as a team, and while there are times for expansive play, I think the key is to slow it down against the All Blacks. You want to force the structures onto them because what they want is broken field play where you don’t have set defensive systems in place, and they can have backs running at forwards, which is where they can expose you.
‘In saying that, I did see some enterprising stuff from a mindset point of view last weekend. That is really good to see. There are times for that, but we do have a long way to go before we can play an expansive brand and beat the All Blacks that way.’
The Boks have been forced into making a couple of backline changes this week, with Paige and Jesse Kriel ruled out with injury, but Steyn has understandably retained his place at flyhalf after scoring all of the Springboks’ points last Saturday.
De Villiers said there was no doubt that Steyn was the right man for the job this weekend.
‘Morné has a very definite way of playing, and it’s suited to the style of how we can beat the All Blacks. We can’t beat them at their own game, and although we can get to that point, we’re certainly not there yet. If we have any chance of winning, then we need to play as we did last week.’
De Villiers’s view was backed up by former All Black Jeff Wilson, who thinks the 2016 All Blacks in fact offer even more all-round threats than last year’s World Cup winning team.
‘We’ve seen teams try and take on the All Blacks at their own game, but that doesn’t work because of their depth and ability to strike whenever they’re presented with opportunities. If an opponent turns ball over, kicks poorly or misses tackles, they will suffer at the hands of the All Blacks.
‘So I think you do need a pragmatic approach, and to look to pressure the All Blacks’ set piece and try and limit their opportunities. That means playing in the right areas of the field, and avoiding playing too much rugby in your own half, as the Boks did last weekend.’
And despite the fact that the All Blacks lost a wealth of experience following last year’s World Cup, with the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter retiring, Wilson still believes the team has evolved even further over the last 12 months.
‘This team is playing with such freedom and confidence. They’re playing with a slightly different style, with a bit more risk that is reaping real reward. There was a group of players that was so successful doing it a certain way for so long, that it’s hard to change that. But I think we’ve seen a transition to a new group of players and leaders, and there’s just been a bit more freedom from players that have such a high level of talent.’
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images