The Boks will require more than just a crash and bash approach if they are to overcome the All Blacks in Saturday’s semi-final, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Ever since the Springboks’ shock loss to Argentina in Durban, and again after the abberation against Japan in their World Cup opener, Heyneke Meyer has preached the importance of playing the ‘South African way’.
He’s insisted that when the Boks play to their traditional strengths they can beat any team on the day, but the All Blacks aren’t just any team, they’re a class above the rest.
New Zealand’s skill set, pace, accuracy and basics are simply sublime, and their humiliation of France in Saturday’s quarter-final was quite rightly described as a rugby masterclass.
The Boks can’t be the All Blacks. The New Zealanders’ strengths are the result of a playing culture that is ingrained in Kiwi players from their earliest school days.
It’s a different story in South Africa, and it’s why so often when the pressure is on in high-pressure situations, players revert to what they are comfortable with in terms of a defensive, kicking and physically-orientated approach.
By contrast, the All Blacks feel comfortable to back themselves, relying on their superior conditioning, skills, handling and peerless off-loading abilities to get them out of trouble. And as we’ve seen at this World Cup already, against Argentina, Tonga and indeed France, they can simply flick an attacking switch to incredible effect.
It’s going to require something extraordinary from the Boks to nullify these strengths, while accentuating their own to a sufficient degree that will enable them to clinch what would be a significant upset.
However, they simply can’t afford to be as one-dimensional as they were against Wales. The Boks bashed it up and bashed it up, coming in hard in waves off No 9 and 10, wearing the opposition down, while keeping mistakes to a minimum.
Although the forwards generally got over the advantage line, Wales did well to stand up to the physical test, with the Boks often lacking the necessary urgency and accuracy at the breakdown, allowing the Welsh to slow down their ball.
That will be some cause for concern considering that besides their attacking ability, the All Blacks are also renowned for their intensity at the tackle area. If they get off the line quickly and knock the Boks’ big runners back, while preventing Fourie du Preez from getting quick ruck ball, there’s undoubtedly only going to be one winner on Saturday.
The All Blacks will know what to expect from the Boks, and they’ve repeatedly proven they have the ability to successfully counter it. It’s why the Boks really need to bring an extra element of innovation to Saturday’s encounter.
Earlier this year, when the All Blacks beat the Boks with a nifty – albeit arguably illegal – lineout move, former coach Nick Mallett described New Zealand as the game’s leaders in innovation.
However, the clever training ground move executed by Duane Vermeulen and Du Preez to clinch the Boks’ quarter-final victory on Saturday provided proof that the Boks also possess some tricks up their sleeve.
In players like Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Bryan Habana, Handré Pollard, Willie le Roux, and dynamic forwards such as Bismarck du Plessis and Francois Louw, the Boks do have the potential to pull off enterprising pieces of play.
This week of preparation is crucial for the Boks; they cannot reinvent the wheel, they cannot move away from the ‘South African way', but they do have to add more than one dimension to their predictable play.
Saturday’s epic semi-final will not only be a test of the quality of this Springbok team, but also the capacity of the players and coaches to formulate strategies and plans superior to that of wily Steve Hansen’s eminently capable crew.
It’s going to be an enthralling battle. Bring it on.
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