No referee can dictate how the Springboks play, but be guaranteed on Saturday that Siya Kolisi’s Boks won’t get away with slowing down the game as they did a week ago. Still, I am backing the boys in green to sneak a tight one against the All Blacks, writes Mark Keohane.
I picked the Boks to win the first Test by a score and on 77 minutes it looked like a genius call. On 80 minutes, my social media timeline was one mass attack for what a Muppit I was for even suggesting the All Blacks could lose.
Test rugby, when one in the world plays two in the world, is one of fine margins, and on the last six occasions when the Boks have played the All Blacks the average score has been 25-23 to the All Blacks.
I am expecting it to be as uncompromising on Saturday as it was in Townsville and I remain confident that this time the Boks can close out a game and not lose it in the final few minutes. Having watched the 19-17 defeat a few times this week, this was more a case of the Springboks losing a Test than being beaten by a superior performance.
The All Blacks, by their own admission, got out of jail and their team changes reflect coach Ian Foster’s view that some players failed the challenge of the Springboks and failed the exam, especially with one eye on the biggest prize that is the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The Boks, through coach Jacques Nienaber, have been insistent that they will continue to play the same way, with Handre Pollard telling the media that there is no team better than the Boks when it comes to the kick and chase game.
Pollard, like Nienaber, accepted the criticism that execution and player decision-making had been the biggest factors in the 28-26 defeat to the Wallabies and the 19-17 defeat to the All Blacks.
Nienaber has entrusted every available player to right the wrongs of last Saturday, while his New Zealand counterpart (Ian Foster) hasn’t been as charitable. Foster has dropped certain players and where he has retained those with a question mark next to their name, he has let these people know who they are and what he expects from them.
Foster, as the week has unfolded, has focused more on the lessons he learned about his own team in the 80 minutes against the Springboks and the reality that if the match in Townsville was a World Cup play-off match, the All Blacks could well have been on a plane home.
The Boks’s game plan is suited to World Cup play-off rugby and the All Blacks have often been criticised for not having enough adaptation of their free-flowing, high-tempo, high risk game, to play percentages and field position more.
Former All Blacks great John Kirwan this week suggested the All Blacks play a bit more conservatively and intelligently, especially against a team like the Boks who don’t want to engage in a free-flowing spectacle.
The narrative, in the immediate aftermath of the All Blacks defeat, was one sustained attack on the Springboks’ approach, but this week Foster, along with several other high profile coaches and media commentators, said it was over the top reaction and nonsense.
They were in agreement that teams play to their respective strengths, which is why it is called Test rugby, and that the Springboks contrasting style to the All Blacks made for a great contest.
What Foster bemoaned, and rightly so, was that the Boks were able to manipulate the flow of play to such an extent that they regularly reduced the pace of the game to a near standstill.
I can’t see them getting close to replicating this again on Saturday. Too much has been made of it and there is too much awareness. The officials will act – and act with a ‘play-on’.
Former Crusaders and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was complimentary of the effectiveness of the Springboks approach and how much it challenged the All Blacks but he said the time wasting and failure of the match officials to speed up getting the ball in play had to be addressed.
The Boks played the referee magnificently a week ago and the All Blacks inexperienced leadership was shown up as being naive.
This will change on Saturday.
The Springboks will have to be disciplined and precise in their execution of the kicking game and their tackle effectiveness, in one-on-one situations, has to be better, especially when it comes to Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard. If this duo plays well, the Boks win.
I am expecting them to deliver.
The Boks will miss Frans Malherbe at tighthead, but the tweaks to the Bok front row still makes for a strong starting trio.
Winger Cheslin Kolbe’s wizardly and game-breaking abilities have been missed throughout the Boks time in Australia, as has the presence of flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Equally, the All Blacks felt the absence of captain and veteran lock Sam Whitelock and Test centurion scrumhalf Aaron Smith. Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, as a bench replacement, also improves the All Blacks as a match 23.
However, the jury is out whether the new set of wingers will deal any better with the high ball and the rejigged loose trio missing Ethan Blackadder may not go as well.
The Boks, without doubt, are fatigued and mentally drained, but Nienaber and the players have insisted it is the All Blacks who they line up against and because of that, there will be nothing lacking in commitment.
Boks by 5 – and it won’t be pretty.
— Springboks (@Springboks) October 1, 2021
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 30, 2021
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