Will the Springboks’ famous fighting spirit in adversity be enough to overcome the rampant All Blacks when these most traditional of foes meet again in Christchurch on Saturday evening?
New Zealand have already retained the Bledisloe Cup 42-8 in Sydney and 29-9 in Wellington; backed this up by dispatching Argentina 57-22 last week in Hamilton; are unbeaten in their last 14 outings, and in 43 at home since 2009; and are now unbackable favourites to win The Rugby Championship at the mid-point of the competition.
South Africa, on the other hand, are one from three in the Championship (and the win was scratchy to say the least), and are coming off losses to Argentina (24-26) and Australia (17-23). They’ve been likened by one of their home-based critics to a jumbo jet flying on one engine and destined for a catastrophic crash on Saturday. An unkind Kiwi scribe suggests they’d struggle to defend against a tackle bag.
Springboks – “they’d struggle to defend against a tackle bag”
Last time they met
Going into the Semi-Final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, South Africa had recently suffered humiliation at the hands of Japan, and were generally expected to be crushed by an All Blacks’ side coming off a record rout of France.
Eighty minutes of trench warfare rugby later, New Zealand emerged battered, bruised, and in some cases bloodied, with a 20-18 win that many rated fortuitous. Ninety-five years of All Black v Springbok history tells us that Saturday’s match will be no less intense. Blood will be spilled.
Ardie Savea – crowd favourite will start the game
The Springboks lost lock Lood de Jager to a knee injury in Brisbane. Pieter-Steph du Toit comes into the XV and the versatile Willem Alberts into the 23. Tight head Vincent Koch will start with Louren Adriaaanse dropping to the bench. Malcolm Marx and Damian de Allende also join the reserves.
The All Blacks meanwhile lost flanker Sam Cane to a hamstring injury that will allow fan favourite Ardie Savea to start a test for the first time. Long-serving backup openside Matt Todd joins the 23. Aaron Cruden suffered a groin injury in training and Lima Sopoaga comes in as the backup five-eighth.
Eben Etzebeth – impressive loose cannon
Key players and match-ups
Eben Etzebeth could become one of the greats of the game but there’s a dark side to his play right now and you get the feeling that if, say, Brodie Retallick were to push the right buttons “Bruno” might do something really stupid and detrimental to his team.
Ardie Savea has been touted as the next great All Black 7 for so long it’s sometimes hard to remember that he’s not yet 23. Francois Louw, however, looks like he should have stayed retired from Test rugby.
Aaron Smith had a rare off-night in Hamilton and will want to make amends, especially as his replacement TJ Perenara put in a strong showing. Beauden Barrett is surely favourite to take out World Rugby’s Player of the Year Award but his goal kicking has been below par. His opposite Elton Jantjies has caught a bad case of lateral running and at times looks below Super Rugby let alone test standard.
This time last year Ryan Crotty was contemplating a move offshore, such was the logjam of potential All Black midfielders ahead of him. Today he’s the obvious All Black 12 and SBW will have to displace him rather than reclaim the jersey. Malakai Fekitoa looks far more at home at 13 than at 12 where he spent most of the Super Rugby season. Jesse Kriel is class but how good could the Boks be with Rohan Janse van Rensburg to straighten the attack from 12?
Johan Goosen will be an obvious target for the All Blacks’ long kicking game as he’s noted for making a hash of things from time to time. No such problems for Ben Smith who’s arguably the best high ball receiver and returner this side of Israel Folau.
Ryan Crotty – a regular in the All Black starting team now
Argentina exposed two chinks in the All Black armour. First, they rattled the usually unflappable Aaron Smith to the point Steve Hansen deemed it necessary to sub him off far earlier than usual. Second, they made considerable inroads with one-off runs that were at times (and by All Black standards) poorly defended. South Africa will surely haven taken note and look to do the same, with Eben Etzebeth, “Beast” Mtawarira and Warren Whiteley to the fore in both endeavours.
The All Blacks will, of course, have taken note themselves and prepared accordingly. Expect more bodies to be committed to the breakdown and the immediate vicinity; more (non-verbal) sniping from Smith; and Jerome Kaino to not be left as the only “guard dog”. More respect will have to be shown to the Bokke lineout than, say, Australia’s; so the long kicking will probably be more for the corners than for the touch lines, and the short kicking as usual intended for regathering or at least contesting.
Allister Coetzee (right) – has Springboks playing the Stormers’ game
South Africa these days are a strange beast. Coach Allister Coetzee seems determined that his team should play a Stormers-like game (he did coach them, after all) based on a strong set-piece and an effective if repetitive kick-chase, but circumstances (including, as is now all too evident, the Transformation agenda being imposed from above) aren’t allowing him to select the players necessary to effect it.
Most glaringly, instead of Handre Pollard or Pat Lambie following their instincts at flyhalf they’ve got Elton Jantjies trying to suppress his and stick to the script he’s been given. This has resulted in far too much lateral play. With Morné Steyn as the game-closer it’s all a bit reliant on individual brilliance and/or opposition errors (such as the two from which they scored last week) and building a defensible lead.
Defensively the Springboks are overly-reliant on Jesse Kriel and Etzebeth. Forcing one or the other to make a tackle on one side of the field almost always creates an overlap opportunity on the other. Getting the ball to Julian Savea, Israel Dagg, or Ben Smith quick-smart could therefore pay huge dividends.
Everything points to a comprehensive, perhaps even record-breaking, All Blacks victory but I’m just not buying into the hype coming from the New Zealand media and (some) fans, nor the doom and gloom coming from most of their South African counterparts.
All Blacks by 10
Team lists & details
1. Joe Moody
2. Dane Coles
3. Owen Franks
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Jerome Kaino
7. Ardie Savea
8. Kieran Read (c)
9. Aaron Smith
10. Beauden Barrett
11. Julian Savea
12. Ryan Crotty
13. Malakai Fekitoa
14. Israel Dagg
15. Ben Smith
16. Codie Taylor
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Luke Romano
20. Matt Todd
21. TJ Perenara
22. Lima Sopoaga
23. Anton Lienert-Brown
1. Tendai Mtawarira
2. Adriaan Strauss (c)
3. Vincent Koch
4. Eben Etzebeth
5. Pieter-Steph du Toit
6. Francois Louw
7. Teboho Mohoje
8. Warren Whiteley
9. Faf de Klerk
10. Elton Jantjies
11. Francois Hougaard
12. Juan de Jongh
13. Jesse Kriel
14. Bryan Habana
15. Johann Goosen
16. Malcolm Marx
17. Steven Kitshoff
18. Lourens Adriaanse
19. Marvin Orie
20. Franco Mostert
21. Jaco Kriel
22. Morné Steyn
23. Damian de Allende
Date: Saturday, September 17th
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local, 17:35 AEST
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Gauzere (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)[/one_third]