The All Blacks are aiming to nullify Heinrich Brüssow’s ball-stealing influence in the Test at Ellis Park this Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.
Four years ago, Australia’s David Pocock was the best fetcher in Test rugby. Brüssow struggled with injury in the lead-up to the 2011 World Cup, while Richie McCaw wasn’t at his best due to a chronic foot problem. Pocock went on to dominate the breakdown battle in all World Cup matches, bar the semi-final against the All Blacks.
In that fixture, the All Blacks formulated a plan to nullify Pocock’s influence. They created attacking situations where they ran directly at the flanker. The ploy was successful. By forcing Pocock to make the first tackle, they limited his ball-stealing opportunities.
The All Blacks may employ a similar tactic against the Boks at Ellis Park this Saturday. To date, New Zealand have never beaten South Africa, at the breakdown or on the scoreboard, when Brüssow has started.
‘Some guys have that knack; not just the ability to steal the ball but to know when to compete and when to hang back. Brüssow is certainly one of those players,’ McCaw said on Friday.
So how do you stop Brüssow? McCaw’s answer suggested that the All Blacks may go back to what worked against Pocock in 2011.
‘How do we stop him? Make sure he doesn’t get the opportunity. Make sure he’s at the bottom of the ruck. The bloke who makes the tackle is rarely the bloke who is then in a position to make the steal,’ said McCaw.
Heyneke Meyer has selected two fetchers in his back row, and another strong breakdown competitor at No 8. Brüssow will partner Francois Louw and Schalk Burger in that combination.
McCaw and Burger have enjoyed many great battles at the breakdown over the years. In 2004, Burger was the game’s form opensider, and won the IRB Player of the Year award. He played No 6 for the Boks throughout their successful World Cup campaign in 2007.
Burger fought back from injuries and a life-threatening illness in 2013, and returned to Test rugby in 2014. Now that Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield are unavailable, he has been given the opportunity to lead the Boks.
‘The way he throws himself around on the field, he always makes an impact,’ said McCaw. ‘He’s a big man, and to come back from those setbacks to captain the Springboks, it’s nothing short of amazing. I have a lot of respect for Schalk.’
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images