All Blacks will boast balanced game

JON CARDINELLI says that the Springboks will be in trouble if the All Blacks adopt the Crusaders’ game plan.

Peter de Villiers was in a cheerful mood on Wednesday afternoon. God knows why. The senior Boks have struggled in the Super Rugby competition, and the World Cup is less than five months away. The Crusaders have looked the best team in the tournament, and their All Blacks have been particularly impressive.

But De Villiers isn’t worried. To the contrary, the Bok coach believes the All Blacks will stumble if they persist with a similar approach. De Villiers prefers the Stormers’ game plan, where forward physicality and impregnable defence is championed over attacking penetration and flair.

De Villiers has a point when he says that all-out attack won’t win the World Cup. History will confirm the fact. But to box the Crusaders, a team that will supply the core of the All Blacks’ players and possibly the blueprint for September’s World Cup, as an all-out attacking team is absurd.

The Crusaders have scored the most tries to date (29), but you have to appreciate the manner in which these tries have been scored. The forwards have laid the platform, allowing the superstars out wide to benefit.

It follows that one of the most physical teams in the competition has proved the most successful on attack. They’ve enjoyed the set-piece platform as well as breakdown supremacy, and what’s really set them apart is their ability to convert opportunities. Whether they are running forward with ball-in-hand or counter-attacking from the turnover, they are difficult to stop.

The decision making at halfback has been excellent, and that physical edge has been extended to the midfield. Sonny Bill Williams has attracted attention for his trademark offload, a flashy back-of-the hand pass that would be crticised if it wasn’t so effective. But you also have to appreciate Williams’s ability to get into a position to make that characteristic offload. Most of the time he’s carrying the ball over the advantage line, and then making the offload with two defenders on his back.

The bulk of the Crusaders’ tries have been scored by the backline, but the bulk of the credit should go to the pack. Kieran Read has been outstanding and the underrated tight-five have proved their worth. The tactical kicking of Andy Ellis and Dan Carter has been exceptional, a fact that proves that kicking still has a place in a game perceived to be all about ball-in-hand attack.

It also pays to remember that while the All Blacks scored the most tries in their successful 2010 campaign, they also kicked the most. This season teams like the Crusaders and the Reds have enjoyed success because they’ve been able to strike a balance between kicking and running. Quade Cooper, a man with a reputation for ball-in-hand feats, tops the kicking stats.

De Villiers believes the Boks had a good tour of the home unions in 2010, when the reality is they failed to progress. They are playing an outdated game, and unless they find a way to achieve the same sort of balance, they’re in for disappointment at the World Cup.

The Crusaders out-muscled the Bulls, and while it remains to be seen if they can out-muscle the Stormers, it bodes badly for the World Cup. The All Blacks are a team that can match the Boks’ physicality, and so you need more than a bash and kick approach to beat them.

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