No amount of spin can bamboozle the South African rugby public ahead of Saturday’s test against the All Blacks. The Boks are on a spiral. Call the score and win a year’s subscription to SA Rugby Magazine.
The Boks will play better than in Brisbane. There is no way they can play as poorly again. They won’t lose by 49 points. They won’t lose by 20 points. It will be a 10 to 15 pointer because of the weather in Wellington. It is also not an All Blacks team capable of running away with this game. Graham Henry has picked a team that can win him the game, but not one that can crush the Springboks.
This should give all of us a bit of relief and at least we can sit down and stomach the 80 minutes. But the Bok team, as it stands, doesn’t offer a hell of a lot. All that they will have on their side on Saturday is the knowledge that they can’t embarrass themselves as easily again. They will show fight and heart. They will turn the game into a streetfight (in rugby terms) and this will frustrate the All Blacks, who want fluidity to any game.
This is a good All Blacks team, but it is not their A team. Australia, in Sydney, will play their full-strength side and then we will get a measure of any Bok improvement on this away stretch of the competition.
The All Blacks will be 10 points better on the day, but a comfortable 10 points. There won’t be a massive score put against the Boks, but that should not lull anyone into believing there has been radical improvement. Given what happened in Brisbane, anything will be an improvement, so two penalties should be kept in context because six points is a 600 percent improvement.
Much will depend on the attitude of the All Blacks. They won’t be complacent, but with eight changes, they are a side who has not played two successive tests together in the last 10. This will be to the Boks advantage. The All Blacks also won’t have the hunger of the Boks and this will help to level things a bit.
But it won’t be a leveller because the two sides are not on a level footing.
Solly Tyibilika is playing the biggest game of his life. We know he has pace and enthusiasm and he can make tackles. The question is can he slow down the All Blacks ball. I think not. The All Blacks, like Australia, rely on quick phase ball and that is something the Boks have denied them in their last four matches. They have done so because of the skills and intensity of Schalk Burger.
The famed rush defence has also worked because of the organisational skills of Jean de Villiers. The Bok backs represent seven individuals doing their own thing at the moment. They are not a unit. The pack make-up is also disruptive. Victor Matfield and Albert van den Berg give the Boks options at lineouts and kick-offs, but they don’t provide the physical presence of a Bakkies Botha or Danie Rossouw. It is a surprise that Johann Muller was not selected.
And then there’s the question of Butch James. We all know his ability and we also know his vulnerability.
This Bok team, in New Zealand, is too vulnerable after the Brisbane debacle. If this game had been played in South Africa, with home town nutters adding an arm and a leg to each of the players, then we’d have a match.
I fear Saturday will be a comfortable training run for the All Blacks, one in which the score won’t matter to them. Only the matter of a win.