All Blacks brace for forward assault

All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen is expecting the Springboks to employ the same subdue and conquer strategy that proved so effective in 2009.

Bok coach Peter de Villiers has selected a number of powerful ball-carriers for Saturday’s clash, as well as breakdown supremo Heinrich Brussow. De Villiers has also reinstated halfbacks Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn, whose kicking prowess proved instrumental in the Boks’ 2009 Tri-Nations triumph.

The game has moved on since 2009, as the Boks discovered in 2010. Nevertheless, De Villiers is hoping that the return of Brussow and Du Preez will allow them to revisit these tactics and enjoy similar success.

Speaking to a media scrum in Port Elizabeth on Thursday, Hansen said the All Blacks were wary of the Bok pack ahead of the clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. According to the All Blacks forwards coach, the Boks’ intentions have been made clear through these specific selections.

‘They’ll certainly have a big ball-carrier in Willem Alberts, he’s a real big hitter,’ said Hansen. ‘Bismarck du Plessis will bring a lot to the Boks, if he’s not the top hooker in the world, he’s one of the top two or three. He’s great over the ball, just like Andrew Hore, he’s good at making turnovers. He’s a strong scrummager like John Smit, probably a bit more mobile though. [South Africa] are very fortunate to have both of those players, as we are to have two great hookers in our squad.

‘They’ve gone for a very big pack. I expect they’ll try and beat us up up front and then the selection of Morne Steyn suggests they’ll play an aerial game.’

A weakened Bok side was hammered in Wellington last month, and the visiting scrum was particularly susceptible. It was a problem area for many of the South African teams in the recent Super Rugby competition, and nobody would have forgotten the pounding an all-Bok Sharks front-row sustained at the hands of the Crusaders in that play-off in Nelson.

Gurthro Steenkamp hasn’t played much rugby since returning from injury, and CJ van der Linde has had a disappointing season with the Stormers. Hansen, however, believes the Boks will be better prepared this time around.

‘They definitely won’t have a problem keeping the scrum up, and the fact that they selected more forwards [De Villiers has included three front-rankers on the bench] suggests that they’re going to have a crack at us in that area.

‘I don’t think you can read too much into the first two Tests of the Boks’ campaign because it wasn’t this [first-choice] team. They made a conscious decision to rest some of the players and probably rightly so. How do you judge the team that played against the Wallabies last week? Well most of that group hadn’t played for eight weeks, so taking that into account, I think they went particularly well.

‘They’re running their own course and good on them. The World Cup is the most important thing this year, and they decided early on that the Tri-Nations wasn’t their tournament. They’re brought in a lot of experience [since returning for the two games in South Africa] and the changes they’ve made for the coming game are probably to see if the new guys can fit in around the more senior players.’

After this Test, both teams will begin their final preparations for the World Cup, and if everything goes according to plan, the All Blacks could host the Boks in a World Cup semi-final on 16 October.

Because of their record at past tournaments, Hansen said the All Blacks won’t take anything for granted at the 2011 competition. They bowed out of the 2007 World Cup after losing to France in the quarter-finals, and it’s because of this failure that Hansen refused to entertain any talk about a potential semi-final meeting with the Boks.

‘I think we’ve got to worry about the quarter-final, because if you don’t win that game, you don’t advance to the semis,’ he said. ‘We learned that last time.’

By Jon Cardinelli, in Port Elizabeth