All Blacks brace for all-round assault

Israel Dagg says that the All Blacks will expect the unexpected when they travel to Soccer City for Saturday’s showdown with the Springboks.

The Boks produced their most balanced performance of 2012 in last Saturday’s hammering of the Wallabies. The forwards were at their fearsome best, while the backs used that platform to devastating effect. The kicking game was also on point, ensuring the hosts won the territorial battle.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said after that victory that the players are starting to understand and execute the game plan. They are starting to play the game in the right areas, and then create and finish try-scoring opportunities once in opposition territory. It is not, as Meyer confirmed again on Monday, as if the game plan has changed.

Be that as it may, the All Blacks have taken note of the Boks’ five-try display at Loftus Versfeld. Dagg described the showing as ‘exciting’ and said it was clear that the Boks are now playing with more attacking intent. Dagg said that this will make the Boks doubly dangerous this Saturday, as the hosts will also use the kick-chase tactic at some stage.

‘We just have to expect the unexpected,’ the All Blacks fullback said.’They were great in that game against the Wallabies with ball in hand, but I’m sure they’ll try and Test us with a few high balls. In that respect, we will be prepared. We pride ourselves on our high-ball skills.’

When assistant coach Ian Foster was asked if he thought the Bok game plan had changed, his reply suggested that one player has certainly made a difference to how they attack.

‘They have a different guy at 10,’ said Foster. ‘They were looking to play with more width against Australia. I think it’s going to be a traditional South Africa vs New Zealand Test, but they will throw a few different things at us on attack. But we won’t change much with regards to our own plans.’

Flyhalf Johan Goosen is expected to start his second Test this Saturday, and the All Blacks will certainly look to target the 20-year-old. Foster played down the suggestion that the visitors would gun for one opposition player specifically, although he admitted that the South African flyhalf channel can expect a great deal of traffic.

‘He’s got a good all-round game, but he is still finding his feet in international rugby. We’ve got our own game plan and we will highlight one or two areas where we want to attack. Obviously a No 10 at this level is expected to make a lot of tackles. So hopefully if we attack well we can expose him in a one-on-one situation.’

Much of the All Blacks’ attacking success, and the Boks’ for that matter, will depend on the performance of the forwards.

Some of the All Blacks are still feeling the effects of a brutal encounter with Argentina, with Luke Romano and Conrad Smith sporting some ugly facial cuts. But that physical encounter has not diminished the appetite for a physical fight nor the will to win in South Africa, as senior statesman Keven Mealamu confirmed.

‘The Boks are playing with a lot of energy, and we saw that when we played them in Dunedin,’ Mealamu said. ‘We will be prepared for that [physicality].

‘Beating the Boks in South Africa is not an easy thing to do. Not many teams can do it. It’s always the Test you look forward to as a player, so we will definitely be up for it this Saturday.’

By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg