Ominous signs from the boys in black
In their come from behind win over the Boks yesterday in Durban, the All Blacks showed some frightening glimpses of their potential, with just a few Achilles heels on display.
Nine points behind with 15 minutes to play, New Zealand raised the pace of the game to a level that the exhausted boks could no longer contain. The penultimate try was the pick of the bunch, with Rodney So’oaiolo producing an explosive 50m kick return from deep in New Zealand territory that set up a sustained period of phase pressure in the Boks 22. The eventual try came from a mercurial pick and go three metres out by the omnipresent Richie McCaw.
The final try, a classic capitalisation on a quick turnover to give Rokocoko a clear run in, was then almost inevitable. South Africa had nothing left in the tank.
That’s not to say that this wasn’t a strong performance from the Springboks. In the first half, Matfield read the Kiwi lineout as easily as his own, giving the home side good ball. Berger was everywhere in defence and never more than two steps away from McCaw. Percy Montgomery used his experience at the back, his kicking game impressive. The half-back Ruan Pienaar staked his case for a regular place with touches of world class.
However, by the second half the South African scrum had disintegrated and only quick work at the base managed to keep it functioning at all. To nullify the lineout malfunctions, the All Blacks started taking quick throws whenever possible, which served to accelerate the pace of the game further.
Scarily for any opposition, it’s hard to pick out single All Black contributions, such was the joined up, full pace approach. But for such a game plan to work, the back row must be at the top of their game and McCaw, Collins and So’oialo were. The power of their running and gang tackling was at times awesome.
For the Wallabies in Melbourne this weekend, victory will require a performance the like of which they haven’t given since the last world cup versus this same opposition. Encouraging as last week’s gutsy but ultimately losing effort against the Boks was, it will take much more determination and accuracy, for it also seems that this All Black side has raised the bar in terms of conditioning.
If the Wallabies can find this level of performance, then there are some chinks in the AB armour to attack:
- The line-out. Perhaps because of the injuries at lock, this weakness is once again ripe for exploitation; Vickerman and Sharpe must take a leaf out of Matfield’s book. Note that this doesn’t mean the Wallabies should try and overplay a kicking game as it would play into All Black hands.
- Ball retention. Keep it tight and drive it through the phases. This worked for the Boks this weekend, they came unstuck as soon as they tried to loosen it up. Give the ABs 65% of the ball next weekend and it’ll be a massacre at the MCG. As the Brumbies and Bulls also showed against the Crusaders, McCaw starts to leak penalties on the back foot.
- Mongrel. The AB’s are a well oiled machine when allowed to play. You have to be in their face with big tackles and causing niggle everywhere else. The South Africans did a good job of this until they ran out of puff. Who will be Australia’s Baakies Botha?
Anyone think of anything else?
And finally, there’s another silver lining – the ref isn’t Kaplan
NEW ZEALAND 26 (Richie McCaw, Joe Rokocoko tries; Daniel Carter 3 pens 2 cons, Aaron Mauger drop goal) bt SOUTH AFRICA 21 (Schalk Burger, Butch James tries; Percy Montgomery 2 pens con, Ruan Pienaar pen) at ABSA Stadium Durban.