The under-fire Springboks are set to face the ultimate pressure test against the All Blacks in Saturday’s clash at the Westpac Stadium, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The backlash since the Boks’ loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane has been brutal – as reflected in coach Rassie Erasmus’ sudden admissions around job fears should the team suffer a humiliating defeat this weekend.
An attempt to balance winning rugby with building squad depth has not quite gone according to plan seven Tests into the year, and it’s left the Boks facing a steadily increasing burden of pressure that is so commonplace in the unforgiving South African rugby environment.
The escalation is also based on the daunting prospect that the almighty All Blacks are the next opponents that lie in wait. The last time they played the Boks at home, they romped to a 57-0 victory in Albany.
Fast-forward 12 months, and the All Blacks are arguably an even stronger team, while a relatively new-look Bok side is at the start of another transition period under a different coaching staff.
Back-to-back defeats have left the Boks clinging precariously on to second spot in the Rugby Championship standings, while the All Blacks could wrap up the title after just four rounds should they claim a bonus-point victory this Saturday.
What the Boks really will be searching for is the sort of performance that proves they aren’t quite so far off track as some would believe after witnessing the uninspiring defeats in Argentina and Australia.
For now, banish any thoughts of some miracle victory. For the record, the Boks have not won in New Zealand since 2009, while the All Blacks have won 11 of their last 12 games against South Africa, including the last six on the bounce by an average margin of 23 points.
No. These are two teams at very different stages of their development, and Erasmus’ biggest task ahead of Saturday’s Test will be to ensure that he keeps his and the team’s faith firmly fixed on the direction that they hope to make some headway.
This weekend, the Boks will know that they need to focus on going back to basics (particularly after such an error-riddled performance last Saturday), while aiming for pinpoint execution on attack and defence.
In terms of per-game averages so far in the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks average a whopping 154 carries, 713.7 metres made and 23 clean breaks. To have any chance of competing, the Boks’ work rate on defence will need to be off the charts.
The All Blacks remain as devastating as ever off counter-attack opportunities, and so the Boks must ensure that their contestable kicks are accurate, or that they find touch, while preventing any quick lineout throw-ins.
In addition, any sloppy ball protection will enable the All Blacks to pounce on mistakes and tear a disorganised defence to pieces.
So far this season, the All Blacks also boast the best success rate at both the scrum (100%) and lineout (83%), and so the Boks will need to rise to the set-piece challenge in order to prevent the hosts from using this platform as an attacking weapon.
The Springboks will also be fully aware that they cannot spend the whole game defending, and so their phase play and ball security will be of utmost importance, while they will look to their forwards to assert themselves physically.
Similarly, the visitors will hope that the selection of Handré Pollard at flyhalf and Jesse Kriel to cover out wide will provide them with the necessary experience and physicality in the back division.
If all of this goes according to plan, the Springboks could at least avoid suffering a hammering at the hands of the All Blacks.
Stats and facts
o South Africa have lost eight consecutive games in New Zealand against the All Blacks and have not reached 20 points in such fixtures since racking up 32 points in 2009.
o New Zealand have a win rate of 87% at Westpac Stadium, having lost just three times in 18 years of hosting Test matches at the ground (won 20). New Zealand are undefeated in their six games at the ground against South Africa.
o The All Blacks have scored 40-plus points in their last two games. They have not scored 40-plus points in three or more matches since scores of 58 (vs Namibia), 43 (vs Georgia), 47 (vs Tonga) and 62 (vs France) at the 2015 World Cup.
o The Springboks will be out to avoid losing a third Rugby Championship game in a row for the first time since 2016. Back then they lost to Argentina, then Australia away from home, before travelling to New Zealand and losing (their same schedule as this run).
o The All Blacks have the best success rates at both the scrum (100%) and lineout (83%) in this edition of the Rugby Championship; they’ve won all 13 of their own scrums so far.
o New Zealand have scored 87 second-half points this tournament, more than the combined second-half totals (83) of all other teams in the Rugby Championship. However, South Africa (18) have conceded the fewest second-half points of any team.
o The Springboks (22) have averaged the fewest missed tackles per game so far in this tournament, missing just 16 tackles last week. However, it is the All Blacks who have the best tackle success rate of any side (86%).
o Siya Kolisi has beaten 18 defenders in the Rugby Championship, more than twice as many as any other forward, and trails New Zealand wing Waisake Naholo (19) by just one.
All Blacks – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Jack Goodhue, 23 Damian McKenzie.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.
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