RYAN VREDE analyses the key match-ups and picks the winner in Saturday’s Test.
Oh dear. The All Blacks. Dunedin. Massive pressure on the Springboks and their coach. I’ve seen this movie before. It ended in fairytale style in 2008 with Ricky Januarie’s late chip and collect to seal the win. Sadly there’ll be no replication of that memorable and rare result come Saturday.
Springbok victories in this fixture have predominantly been built on forward dominance and this Bok pack simply doesn’t possess the physicality, industry or experience in the measures they need to trouble their hosts in general play or at the set pieces.
The former will be particularly decisive. The Blacks boast some of the game’s best strike runners among their heavies, Kieran Read the finest of them. Their ability to offload in the tackle amplifies their threat and has ensured the Blacks’ attacks have a fluidity that is hard to counter. Nullifying their impact would require a cohesive, brutal and accurate effort, the likes of which Argentina achieved in Wellington last week. The Pumas stopped the Blacks at the gainline and harassed them at the breakdown for the bulk of the contest, ensuring a scrappy recycle to their potent back division. The Springboks’ second half effort in Perth in this regard doesn’t stir confidence and with new second and back row combinations, their synergy is sure to be affected.
I called for the inclusion of Francois Louw, but stressed that his value would only become apparent if the Springboks were consistently bossing the tackle fight. I don’t think they will, although Louw’s breakdown work will limit the damage this deficiency has the potential to promote.
Their struggles will extend to the scrums, where the Blacks have generally held the upper hand. The Springboks’ defensive lineout work used to be a cause of concern to the Blacks but they won’t be losing sleep at the prospect of having to negotiate the challenge of Juandre Kruger and co.
How will their attack fare? I fear not much better. Their heavies have failed to inspire as platform-laying forces and the absence of Eben Etzebeth – the one player who made a consistent impact at the gainline – further undermines their cause. Their kickers will seldom have the luxury of time and space to launch their bombs, and the Blacks’ high quality broken field runners have the capacity to hurt them for poorly placed punts.
I think the Springboks’ desperation and the emotion the rivalry evokes will translate into an improved performance. However, that improvement needs to be significant to close the gap in quality between the sides and put them in a position to win. It won’t be.
Prediction: All Blacks by 12
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Tamati Ellison.
Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Pat Lambie.