RYAN VREDE predicts that the All Blacks will spoil John Smit’s party.
There is a discernible mood of optimism in the Springbok camp and a deep-rooted belief that they will deliver their 100-Test captain a result befitting the magnitude of the occasion. However, while there will be improvement, it won’t be significant enough to break their three-match losing streak.
The game will be won or lost at the tackle point. The Springboks were dominated in this facet of play in New Zealand, and this aided the Blacks’ ability to play the high-tempo, ball-in-hand style they’ve employed so successfully. Many of the Springboks, senior men among them, routinely fell off one-on-one tackles, and their defensive impotency is reflected by the fact that they conceded four tries per Test in Auckland and Wellington respectively.
The Boks’ three week lay-off would have rejuvenated body and mind, and this should be reflected in an improvement on defence. But the Blacks are burning white-hot, and in the likes of Kieran Reid, Jerome Kaino and Keven Mealamu, among others, they have ball carriers on top of their games.
Furthermore, the omission of openside flank Francois Louw could prove to be a telling selection error. Schalk Burger, a fine player he is, isn’t nearly as proficient at contesting at ruck time. Coach Peter de Villiers says it won’t be an issue, but his confidence is unfounded. Richie McCaw has been excellent in that role for the Blacks, and unless the Springboks breach the gain line regularly, he’ll torture them on the deck once more.
But who in the heavies will lay the attacking platform needed for a gifted backline to prosper? Their ballistic missile Pierre Spies posed the threat of a pop gun on tour, easily nullified as a result of consistently being asked to break down a set defensive line. Will it be Juan Smith, who hasn’t played Test rugby since September 2009? Smit, who we’re told is in prime condition, even though he obviously isn’t? The fatigued Victor Matfield? The rookie Flip van der Merwe? Burger cannot fight a lone battle. Who then?
The Springboks, at present, cannot match the Blacks’ strike power in the forwards. Consequently it could a miserable evening for the back division.
Tactically the Blacks won’t veer from the game plan that has brought them success. How the Springboks play remain to be seen. Their training session on Monday suggests they’ll ask their halfback pair of Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn to lead their charge with a barrage of kicks. Steyn’s aptitude in that regard is well known, but Hougaard’s remains to be seen.
If accurate execution of those kicks is combined with a committed chase, the Springboks could be in business. Get it wrong and an already arduous defensive task will be compounded by trying repel potent broken field runners.
I suspect it’ll be a hybrid of the pragmatic and enterprising. The majority of the 90 000 crowd will hope they get the blend just right.
There’ll be parity at the set phases, while the Blacks’ bench pose more of a threat. It will be relatively close, but there’ll be a rare win on the Highveld for the tourists. Soweto will stand to salute Smit, but the centurion will be a beaten man at the final whistle.
All Blacks by 10
Springboks – 15 Gio Aplon, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Butch James, 22 Wynand Olivier.
All Blacks – 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 John Afoa, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Israel Dagg.