The Springboks will be better in Wellington but 21 points better is a tough ask.
A reverse of that magnitude will be a notable achievement,but it will require an exponentially improved effort across the board and a significantly poorer one from the All Blacks. As much as the prediction pains, I sense the Blacks will bag the points in the Cake Tin.
There was no secret about where the Eden Park Test was won and lost – the collisions – and that will again be the decisive facet of play this Saturday.
There was purposefulness about the Kapa o Pango in Auckland that hinted at a bruising evening for the Springboks. The Blacks delivered, brutally and accurately, to emphatically shut out opponents who a year ago had blunted them in precisely the same manner.
Players and coaches will tell you defence is about attitude, but its potency depends on it being more than that. It needs to be a hybrid of attitude, vision, intelligence and patience for it to be the cornerstone on which a Test victory is built. The Springboks exhibited these traits only in patches in Auckland, and never simultaneously, and grew progressively more vulnerable to the Blacks’ surges as the match progressed. They’ve promised improvement, and are likely to deliver. However, whether that improvement is significant enough to stifle their hosts’ attacking flow remains to be seen.
Quick ball for the Blacks will reopen the mental wounds and potentially expose structural deficiencies that haven’t been remedied. If they can control the tempo of the match through bossing the gain line and breakdown, the Springboks will make their defensive task infinitely easier. Openside flank Francois Louw will be crucial in this regard, and he’ll have to banish the memory of a forgettable Test last week. Just how influential he is will rest largely on his team-mates’ defensive solidity. Any breach of the gain line immediately undermines his (and others’) ability to compete for a turnover or recycle slow.
The same applies on attack, where the ability of their primary ball carriers to bust the gain line will create more space and time to execute their subsequent plays. Given the offering from the players this week pertaining to their game plan, the kick-chase approach, which brought so much success in 2009 but contributed significantly to their downfall in Auckland, will be persisted with. Herein lies a potentially terminal problem.
While the absence of scrumhalf Fourie du Preez cannot be the sole reason for the defeat, there is no question that his absence was illuminated in light of the game plan they sought to employ. Asking Ricky Januarie to play that type of game is akin to rolling Tyson behind a Grand Piano and asking him to wow a capacity Royal Albert Hall with his musical skill, touch and flair.
Furthermore, and herein lies the value of the world’s greatest players, Du Preez possesses an aura that infiltrates the very psyche of his opponents. Allow me to illustrate. In 2005, English cricketer Ian Bell spent countless hours facing a state-of-the-art bowling machine called Merlyn. The contraption claimed to be able to replicate, exactly, every delivery in Australian leg spinner Shane Warne’s repertoire. Bell was impenetrable against ‘Shane’ in the nets. Warne then dismissed Bell five times in the subsequent Ashes series, illustrating how his physical presence, and the aura and the history he brought with him, was an invaluable asset to his side. Du Preez has the same effect.
But the Springbok coaching staff seems intent on demanding that Tyson play a show-stopper. They’ve ignored the fact that he will attempt to do so whilst donning boxing gloves.
Januarie’s struggles will impact on flyhalf Morné Steyn and that will have in turn have an adverse effect on the rest of the backline – one that includes a wing desperate for a return to inside centre, an inside centre and fullback unsure about their aptitude for Test rugby, a pivot secretly pining for the return of the world’s pre-eminent No 9, and a scrumhalf trying desperately to prove his ongoing value to a side in the face of vehement criticism.
It all makes for a messy situation, one compounded by the fact that Danie Rossouw will play despite probably not being 100% fit.
The Springboks will achieve parity at scrum time but will dominate the lineouts – Victor Matfield has never been out smarted twice in succession and Blacks forwards coach Steven Hansen will be embarrassed after his cocky assessment of the set piece following their relative success there in Auckland.
Sadly, in my opinion, Hansen will have the last laugh at full-time. This is unless the Springboks summon the mental and physical resolve and have formulated an approach that is tailored around the resources at their disposal.
Prediction: All Blacks by 7
New Zealand - 15 Mills Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Israel Dagg.
Springbok – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Jean de Villiers, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryana Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 BJ Botha, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Butch James, 22 Gio Aplon.
By Ryan Vrede