Lood de Jager’s presence is a MUST if the Springboks having any chance of upstaging the All Blacks in Townsville, writes Mark Keohane.
The All Blacks have been outstanding in their last four Test matches, twice against Australia and twice against Argentina. They are buzzing and playing brilliant rugby. Their best starting XV is also refreshed, with several players having been rested for last Saturday’s 36-13 win against the Pumas.
The All Blacks also woke to a new world ranking of No 1, whereas the 2019 World Cup winners and victors of the recent British & Irish Lions series, the Springboks, woke to being demoted to No 2 after two successive defeats against Australia, who have jumped from seventh to third in the rankings.
The All Blacks are in a good place and the Boks mentally look shot after the Lions series.
De Jager, as he showed in the Lions series is the key to a functioning Springboks lineout and without De Jager in the 30-17 defeat against the Wallabies, the Bok lineout was impotent. The Wallabies defended the lineout drive well, but there was not the same confidence in the Bok lineout as there is when De Jager is making the calls.
De Jager transformed the Boks lineout when introduced midway through the Lions series and the Bok coach Jacques Nienaber and National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus will be hoping for a repeat of De Jager’s heroics in Cape Town against the Lions.
The All Blacks slow to start under Ian Foster and John Plumtree in 2020 have gone to another level in 2021 and the Boks, brave and brutal in the taming the Lions, have slumped in Australia. The Boks just look out of puff.
A team, whose players conceded just 16 tries in 16 Test and kept an opposing backline player away from the tryline for 1032 minutes over 13 Tests between George Bridge’s try in the 2019 World Cup opener and Wallabies wing Andrew Kellaway’s try in the first Test against the Wallabies, has missed 40 tackles in the past two Tests and conceded four tries for the first time in a Test since 2018.
The Boks, very effective but much maligned, defensive system is not broken, but those players who have to implement the system appear mentally and physically broken.
Every ounce of mental and physical effort went into beating the Lions because the players would have to live with defeat for the rest of their lives. The Lions only tour once in 12 years and very few get a second crack at the Lions; South Africa’s Morne Steyn being the exception to the rule.
This year for the Springboks was all about winning the Lions series and the mentally drained squad that has arrived in Australia look like impersonators of those giants who won the World Cup and beat the Lions.
The All Blacks are on fire. If you love rugby, you simply have to have loved watching the All Blacks in 2021.
If you know rugby, you can’t but applaud the way they have played and what they have achieved in 2021.
The Boks, to even have a sniff at upsetting a confident and in-form All Blacks, have to get it right in the forwards and defensively in the one-on-one tackles.
Any Bok success against the All Blacks would be a case of winning ugly and at this juncture all of South Africa would take a win, no matter how it is fashioned.
A month ago I had conviction that the Boks would win against the All Blacks, but that conviction is now just a hope, given how the Rugby Championships first four rounds have played out.
It may be one playing two on Saturday in Townsville, but on form there is a huge gap between the two.
The Boks will try and find that emotional lift through it being the 100th Test and they will have to tweak the run on XV, especially among the loose-forwards. Franco Mostert is a fantastic lock but he hasn’t been as effective starting at blindside flank and then moving to lock. He is just one example of senior players not being at their best in the Rugby Championship, when he was one of the best in the Lions series.
The Bok halfbacks of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard are integral to everything the Boks do when successful and both have been off their game in Australia, while the deadly defensive midfield duo of Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am were also second in successive matches to Australia.
The hype all week will be about the occasion and the rivalry, but as I wrote a week ago the rivalry in the modern era has been very one-sided, with the Boks winning just 15 in 57 since 1996 and just 3 in 21 in the last decade. Australia, with 4 in 21 in the past 10 years, is the most successful team against the All Blacks. England has one in seven and France 0/14.
Lot of talk this week about the great rugby rivalry between ABs-Boks. It's also a 1-sided one in modern era. To pick out couple of senior NZ players: Beauden Barrett's record v SA 11 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses; Brodie Retallick's 10 wins, 1 draw, zero losses.
— Marc Hinton (@marchintonffx) September 19, 2021
If the All Blacks looked vulnerable in 2020, they have looked vicious in 2021 and if the Springboks looked fierce against the Lions they were flat against the Wallabies.
The next two weeks really needed the Boks of the Lions series to be at their most competitive.
There will always be hope with players who have scaled the highest mountains, but the confidence is tempered and the conviction is mumbled when it comes to talk of a Springboks win.
Right now, the hope is that the Boks can make the 100th Test an occasion and be competitive.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 19, 2021