Boks must stifle ABs at source

Victor Matfield says the Springboks will need to impose themselves at the set-pieces if they’re going to beat the All Blacks and gather momentum before the World Cup.

Graham Henry has selected a number of fringe players for this fixture and will trial some experimental combinations. Henry said on Thursday that it would be interesting to see how this makeshift team responds in a tight game, but if the contest is looser, there’s little doubt the All Blacks have the individual finishers, read Sonny Bill Williams, Isaia Toeava, Hosea Gear and Israel Dagg, capable of punishing the opposition.

The stand-in Bok captain brought it up at a press conference on Friday. It’s no secret that the Boks will try to slow the All Blacks down and force them into a fight at the point of contact. The Boks will also be looking to take the All Blacks on at the scrum, and with Matfield spearheading an impressive lineout formation, the hosts will want to use that set-piece to good effect.

While the All Blacks have dominated in recent contests against the Boks, the South Africans have always been the superior side at the lineout. In fact, the All Blacks have often looked to circumvent the Boks’ strength by not kicking the ball out, or opting for a quick throw-in so as to avoid Matfield and company.

‘It would be nice to have a few lineouts,’ Matfield said with a laugh. ‘There weren’t that many the last time [we played the All Blacks] because they get away with those quick throw-ins. We all know they like to play a looser game. We will want to force our strong points onto them rather than the other way round.

‘They will play at a high tempo, and we will have to stick to our structures and what we want to achieve. Obviously I can’t say too much about that.’

The Boks have picked Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn as their halfback combination, and while Peter de Villiers will be hoping for an improved attacking and defensive showing, he will also expect a more accurate tactical kicking display.

If Du Preez and Steyn aren’t going to keep the ball infield, they will need to kick the ball dead when probing for touch. This will eliminate the possibility of a quick throw-in.

Du Preez and Heinrich Brussow made a positive impact during the early stages of last week’s game against the Wallabies, but the Boks as a collective failed to maintain the necessary level of intensity and accuracy to secure victory. Matfield said the game plan hadn’t changed for the Test against the All Blacks, but everybody would be expected to lift their levels of accuracy and intent.

‘We know what we have to do this weekend. It’s just about putting that into practice on the field. You need to produce a special effort to beat the All Blacks.’

Matfield, who will play his last Test in South Africa this Saturday, didn’t want to talk about the possibility of losing. Another defeat would mark the Boks’ fifth successive loss to the All Blacks, and would see them finishing the Tri-Nations without a victory for the first time in the tournament’s 16-year history. It would also be a setback as far as the Boks’ World Cup preparation is concerned.

‘It’s a difficult one. We need to start winning, we need to get our confidence back and we need to take momentum into the World Cup. If we don’t win, we will have to put the loss behind us. But we don’t want to think about losing at this stage.

‘We can’t give any excuses any more, we have to go out there and play, we need to be hard on ourselves and what we want to achieve on the field.’

By Jon Cardinelli, in Port Elizabeth