MARK KEOHANE says the Boks can beat the All Blacks if they are not suckered into turning Saturday’s Rugby Championship finale into a free-flowing spectacle.
Heyneke Meyer’s Boks showed the capacity to use the ball against the Wallabies, just as they did at times against England earlier in the season. There is no need to try and match the All Blacks to appease neutrals who like to see all out attack.
To beat the All Blacks will take greater discipline and won’t be as easy on the eye for those who believe that the game should only be played one way.
The appeal of rugby union is that every team has a different style. Former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones once joked to the Bok players (when he worked with them during the 2007 World Cup) that if Australia had South Africa’s forwards and Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf the flyhalf would be lucky to get the ball.
South Africa’s strength has always been when the forwards, collectively, produce a pressured 80-minute display that suffocates the opposition attack. The opposition always talks up South Africa’s physicality and often it has only undermined the Bok performance on the day as individuals have erred with brutish ill-discipline.
The All Blacks traditionally have always had to fight hardest against the Boks and England for victories – and it is because both England and South Africa more often than not have had the advantage up front in size and muscle.
New Zealand, over a century, have always countered this disadvantage with the most incredible attitude in the collisions and in the tackle. Great All Black teams have always shown dominance in defence and it has been as potent weapon as their natural ability to counter attack or score the most spectacular tries.
The All Blacks, in Port Elizabeth a year ago and again in Dunedin, have tried to up the tempo of the game from the outset and played high risk rugby regardless of field position. It has suited the Boks because South Africa, especially at home and in the first quarter of a Test, are most comfortable when asked to make tackles than to use the ball on attack.
Those who seek a playing style similar to the All Blacks won’t like it but playing the percentages is the most intelligent approach South Africa can adopt.
The All Blacks rely on quick phase ball and on quality ball from lineouts and when the Boks have enjoyed success against New Zealand is when there has been enough disruption to ensure a lack of fluency.
The All Blacks battled with the Pumas’ physicality in the 21-5 win in Wellington. The weather contributed to the struggle, but the Pumas got it wrong in trying to play an expansive style against the All Blacks a week ago. The Boks will get similarly punished if they are lured into a match in which the All Blacks are allowed to settle early.
The Boks can win at home and whatever the Kiwis may say the desperation for victory will be greater for the home team. The All Blacks have already won the Rugby Championship, they are mentally exhausted from the strain of having to win the World Cup at home and their tight five is the most vulnerable unit in what is a very good outfit.
The locks are young, the front row has looked tired and laboured and Jerome Kaino, as an imposing blindside flank, has not been replaced. Liam Messan is a good player but he does not possess the Test qualities of Kaino.
The All Blacks are the best team in the world and consistently have been since the game turned professional. But like any team they can be beaten and they usually lose one match a season. They won’t lose on the end-of-year northern hemisphere tour, so the customary defeat (which gives the rest of the world hope) must come in Soweto.
Richie McCaw, in his 112th Test, will be aiming for an unprecedented 100th Test victory. The statistic is incredible, given he has played the Boks and Wallabies 45 times home and away. McCaw is colossal to the All Blacks and he was the difference between the sides in Dunedin.
But the Bok pack must believe they are stronger and equipped to negate their All Black opponents. They also have to be disciplined.
Meyer has made no secret about his approach as coach. It will be Bulls-like rugby at home against the Crusaders, and it is a recipe that has mostly been successful.
This does not mean it has to be one-dimensional or boring. There is skill in mauling, there is skill in controlling the ball with the forwards and their is skill in a kicking game that is accurate and in which the chasers turn even average kicks into good ones.
The global game needs the Boks to win on Saturday, just to keep it interesting for a bit.
My heart says Boks by six or seven points. And my mind says the same. The only proviso is they maintain their discipline, retain 15 on the field and dominate the All Blacks tight five.
Victory certainly must not add to the illusion that the Boks are better than the All Blacks. They aren’t because they haven’t had the consistency or success on the road of the men in black.
See Saturday for what it is – a match the Boks must win and one the All Blacks would like to win.
Meyer, in victory, will have a foundation to take into the end-of-year tour and next year’s Rugby Championship.
The All Blacks were brilliant in victory at the same venue two yeas ago. They silenced 94 000 with a stunning last five minutes.
The quality of the All Blacks is to be admired and applauded but if there is one team that can make them look ordinary for 80 minutes a year it is an imposing Bok team.
It has happened way too little since 1992. The Boks, on Saturday, need a new story against the All Blacks, but they don’t need a new style of play.
Victory won’t make the Boks the best team in the world but it takes them a bit closer to the goal of being the best team in the world.