The big question on everyone’s lips in the crunch Tri-Nation’s test in Hamilton on Saturday is whether South Africa will revert to type by employing their successful aerial game last seen in Capetown a couple of tests ago.
This successful strategy which contributed mightily to them winning their three home tests is likely to be adopted in a game that will probably be played in wet and greasy conditions. The recall of Frans Steyn at fullback who was a major contributor to those wins suggests that this may be the case.
The fact of the matter is that the All Blacks have to win this game to have any hope of retaining the Trophy, preferably with a bonus point and in the process denying the Springboks one. This is a big ask against the World Champions. Sure, the Boks are not renowned for away wins in this competition but this is not an average Springbok team. This side is a cut above any we’ve seen in recent times, certainly better than their last team that won this competition.
The All Blacks have not really performed that well this year despite two wins against a largely inexperienced Wallaby team that will in all likelihood finish on the bottom of the ladder. Despite a defeat last week against this side, the Springboks will be looking to bounce back in their quest for Tri-Nations glory.
Apart from traditional All Black strengths at the breakdown and the set piece, they have always had an ability to exert extreme pressure on the opposition and over recent years been renowned for their counter attack. We actually haven’t seen too much of that this year and the conditions underfoot this weekend will probably mitigate against free flowing rugby and a four try bonus point.
Stephen Donald has been selected for his first ever big game at 2nd five eighths, outside Dan Carter. Most would have predicted Carter at 12 and Donald at 10. This selection was a little ‘left field’ and a risk but with injuries to Conrad Smith, Luke McAlister and Richard Kahui they are running out of options. Donald’s inexperience in the role and Nonu’s defensive frailties will be targeted like Ashley-Cooper and Cross were in the Perth test. There’s every chance Jacque Fourie, Jean de Villiers and Brian Habana will be testing out this channel.
As we all know, the Springboks have the best lineout in the Tri-Nations and the All Blacks the worst. Matfield and Botha (and Smith and Spies) will inevitably be attacking this weakness. Rolling mauls from the lineout have also proven to be an effective weapon.
There’s been a lot of talk about Smit’s vulnerabilities at tighthead which were cruelly exposed by the Wallaby scrum. Tony Woodcock is a world class loosehead (of mythical proportions) and will find out any weaknesses in Smit’s technique. The All Black scrum has looked very solid against all-comers this year.
Three games in three weeks may leave the Springboks a little leg weary; however, this is a game they desperately want to win. If successful, they would complete their third Tri-Nations Trophy success following wins in 1998 and 2004. In reality, to claim credibility as an ‘extra special’ side they need to defeat the All Blacks in New Zealand, not just gain a losing bonus point.
This game is a tough ask for the Springboks as the All Blacks will be desperate to remain in the competition. They have the big guns to pull it off but will need every ounce of focus to succeed.
Springboks by 4.
South Africa: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 John Smit (captain), 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Adi Jacobs, 22 Ruan Pienaar.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Josevata Rokocoko, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 John Afoa, 18 Adam Thomson, 19 Rodney So’oialo, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Isaia Toeava, 22 Cory Jane.
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Stuart Dickinson (Australia)