Nick Mallett feels Jake White’s refusal to play an openside specialist against Australia could limit South Africa’s prospects of a win.
Mallett, who confirmed to Keo.co.za that he had officially withdrawn interest in the England Director of Rugby role, said he was surprised at White’s selections in opting for three ball-carrying loose-forwards against one of the game’s best open-side flankers.
“Like Richie McCaw, George Smith is an out and out fetcher. They play to the ball and they’re prepared to take every knock that goes with the job. I look at the three Bok loose-forwards and our two midfielders and ask whether mentally any one of those five have the game to combat the likes of Smith and Mortlock at the breakdown.
“All three our loose-forwards are great ball carriers. They all like to play with the ball and Van Niekerk has the pace to win the race to the breakdown, but mentally I question whether they want to be putting their hands on a ball to slow it down, knowing that they’re going to be smashed for doing it. McCaw, Smith, Luke Watson and Schalk Burger, when he plays there, have shown an appetite for that role. They know the territory and what comes with it. I don’t know whether Van Niekerk actually wants that role.”
Mallett said that Watson’s performance against the Bulls in the Absa Currie Cup was of such a nature that it would be difficult to ignore his claims for higher honours.
“You simply have to acknowledge how much his game has improved in the last year. He understands the role and none playing for the Boks on Saturday have this kind of appreciation.”
Mallett also said that Saturday would be a big test for CJ van der Linde.
“Eddie Andrews, as a tighthead, has been criticised regularly, but when you assess the French victory against the Boks, Marconnet handled Andrews and Van der Linde with equal comfort. Nothing improved when Van der Linde was scrumming at tighthead, so he has a lot to prove against Australia.”
The WP Director of Rugby also said that physically it was important South Africa got the upper hand against the Wallabies.
“I am one of those that believe the All Blacks were not 20 points better than Australia. I thought it was a high quality game and while the Wallabies were not going to win it, they played some very good rugby at times. They have the players and the game to beat the Boks, so we shouldn’t be influenced by the New Zealand result. It will be a huge game for the Boks.
“Our players psyche is such that if we do get some form of dominance at scrum time and if we can get the maul working and get intensity into our defence, then we get a lift. So that is why there is always this emphasis on the physical aspect of our game,” said Mallett. “It should be a fantastic match-up between teams with contrasting styles, but I get the feeling that a lack of a specialist open-sider will be as punishing to the Boks as it was against the French, when our loose-forwards also failed to slow down the French ball.”