The Boks will look to go back to basics as they seek to achieve a historic win over the All Blacks in Townsville on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
At the start of the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks had posted their highest score over the Wallabies with a 57-22 win, and secured the Bledisloe Cup for a 19th consecutive year.
In that solitary match, they racked up eight tries, 14 clean breaks, 659 metres carried and beat 20 defenders. Their set pieces were solid, and according to Sanzaar’s stats, rucks won stood at 98%.
Since then, New Zealand have continued to play some of their most highly efficient and high-tempo rugby under coach Ian Foster, while their forward pack has also fronted up to the challenges posed, negating any perceived weakness up front.
To date in the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks have scored 24 tries (next best: Australia with 11), executed 35 clean breaks (next best: Australia with 25), completed 3,822m carried (next best: Argentina with 2,819) and beaten 95 defenders (next best: Australia with 79).
That’s New Zealand for you. They feed off high-paced rugby, and are fearless when it comes to backing their attacking skill set, but plenty of their eye-catching ball-in-hand trickery originates from opposition errors and a clever kicking game that often just goes unnoticed.
All week, the Springboks have spoken about the fact that they will revert to their traditional strengths, and back themselves to play the “South African way”.
It’s not a double bluff. After back-to-back losses against Australia, the Springboks will look implement a ‘ruthless’ game based on power and pressure, as highlighted by Foster on Thursday.
Recently, this is how former England international Stuart Barnes described the All Blacks and Boks’ contrasting approaches: “If New Zealand are able to recycle quick ball … the ‘good’ guys with their naughty habits will be spectacular. If the ‘bad’ guys [Springboks] – with a defence designed to slow even the All Blacks down – wear down the men in black, it will be a triumph for ruthless planning and absolute power.”
Stats that matter
Interestingly, just before the Boks took on New Zealand in Wellington in 2018, it was former Bok coach Nick Mallett who highlighted the fact that the All Blacks averaged around 30 points scored. To supersede that was the daunting prospect facing the Springboks but, on the day, they famously outscored the Kiwis 36-34.
A counter-point was raised by Wallabies coach Dave Rennie after the recent Bledisloe Cup defeat when he suggested: “If you can reduce the All Blacks to around about 20 points or less, they lose more than they win.”
It’s perhaps the more magical number for the Boks to target and here’s why: looking back at the two games the All Blacks lost in 2020, they were beaten 24-22 by the Wallabies and 25-15 by Argentina. In 2019, they scored a measly seven points in the World Cup semi-final against England, and were held to a 16-16 draw by the Boks.
In fact, from the All Blacks’ 12 defeats and four draws since 2012, they scored fewer than 20 points on nine of those occasions. On six of the other occasions, they scored between just 20 and 25 points.
This is key for the Springboks and right up their alley: restrict the All Blacks from opening the game up into a free-scoring affair, particularly in the latter stages of each half when New Zealand generally look to raise the tempo and strike when their opponents are tiring.
One of the biggest lessons the Boks would have learned from the last meeting between the teams in the opening game of the 2019 World Cup, will revolve around the two quickfire defensive lapses that the All Blacks capitalised on to score and build scoreboard pressure.
The Springboks won’t look to beat the All Blacks at their own game, but they will draw plenty of confidence from the fact that over the past four Tests between these two sides, just 10 points in total were all that separated the sides (South Africa accumulated 95 points to New Zealand’s 105).
There is no fear factor when the Boks now take on the All Blacks anymore. They have the forward pack to achieve forward dominance, and the defence to restrict New Zealand’s instinctive attack. It’s then down to discipline, kicking accuracy and seizing every point-scoring opportunity.
The Springboks have proved that, when on top of their game, they undoubtedly do have the beating of the All Blacks.