The skilled All Blacks want to go to the dance floor on Saturday, but Siya Kolisi’s world champion Springboks must take them to the gutters, writes Mark Keohane.
There will always be respect from players and coaches for the game’s greatest rivalry. The two teams have won six of the nine World Cups on offer and traditionally have been the dominant teams in the world order.
Right now, neither is ranked in the world’s top two, with Ireland and France leading the pack.
The Boks, having been number one from 2019 up until a month ago, have not found the consistency so desired by South Africa’s National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, who implored his squad to be like the All Blacks post World Cups and consistently win Test matches.
The Boks have won the British & Irish Lions series and this season won the Welsh three-Test series, but in between there have been successive defeats to the Wallabies in Australia, a defeat to the All Blacks in Australia, a defeat to England at Twickenham and a defeat to Wales in Bloemfontein. In four of those five defeats, the losing margin was two points or less, and but for one kick the narrative could have read very differently.
But it doesn’t and the Springboks have the most wonderful opportunity to win at the low veld on Saturday and back that up with a second successive victory against the All Blacks at altitude at Emirates Ellis Park.
The All Blacks shows nine changes in their 23 from the third Test defeat against Ireland in Wellington. Four are in the starting XV, with three in the pack. Add the axing of the two assistant coaches and it amounts to a pretty big shake-up.
My narrative all week has been for the Springboks to show the occasion (of a Test match) respect but to play the vulnerabilities of those making up the All Blacks match-day 23 and not the history and legacy of the imposing black jersey.
The All Blacks, for all their struggles, always have strike power among their backs and will always be capable of scoring two quick-fire tries, but their pack is their Achilles Heel and it has been since England humiliated them in the 2019 World Cup semi-final.
Erasmus, at the 2019 World Cup, told his players to take Japan to the gutters for their rousing quarter-final win. He acknowledged the skill set of Japan and said they loved going to the dance floor. But they didn’t fancy the gutters. He told his players to play them where they didn’t want to be.
The Boks scored one of the most memorable tries from a near 50 metres line out maul.
When it comes to that brutal, gutters approach, the same applies in approach to the All Blacks.
The Boks must apply slow poison through their pack and a good kicking game, build scoreboard pressure and then finish off the New Zealanders in the final quarter.
It doesn’t have to be flamboyant but it must be precise, dominant and done with authority.
The Boks were indifferent in beating Wales 2-1 in this season’s home series. They have to show the qualities against the All Blacks that they showed in the World Cup final against England.
Pieter-Steph du Toit told the media this week that the Boks had to show the world they were still the same team that won the World Cup, and being convincing against the All Blacks will be making such a statement.
I have the Boks to win, but I am not convinced they have the mentality to emphatically put away what is a vastly inferior All Blacks team when compared to Richie McCaw’s warriors who won so often in South Africa. I hope I am wrong and the Boks finally deliver a performance the equal of what they did to England in Japan in 2019.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) August 5, 2022