‘ABs’ lineout still nothing special’ – Smal

Ireland forwards coach and former Springbok forwards specialist Gert Smal says the Boks will continue to boss the New Zealanders in the lineout.

Smal, who as forwards coach of the Boks won the 2004 Tri Nations and 2007 World Cup, also contributed to Ireland’s Six Nations glory a couple of seasons ago. He is widely regarded as among the best forward coaches in the business and has the track record to back up this opinion.

He told keo.co.za that despite the absence of Juan Smith at the back of the lineout, the Boks should still dominate the home team lineout.

Smal’s influence against the Boks in Dublin last year was obvious when the Boks struggled for lineout authority against a team for the first time in years. The Irish, when they toured New Zealand in June, were unable to assert lineout superiority because they lost a forward 15 minutes into the game. The Irish were also missing their best lineout jumper in Paul O’Connell.

Smal remains unimpressed with what he has seen from the All Blacks lineout this season, despite claims from the All Blacks forward coach Steve Hansen that his boys have lost only one lineout throw in three Tests in 2010.

‘They said they had worked on it a lot before they played us, but it’s still nothing special,’ Smal told keo.co.za. ‘Victor is quick on the ground and in the air and if he does his homework, which he will, the Boks will dominate. The All Blacks will try take quick throws and walk in late, but Victor is experienced enough to read them and close the gaps. They’ll also play the safe option to the front and try drive from there.

‘They’ll also try play towards our loosies, and a lot depends how well organised they are. Because Juan – who is the best loose forward jumper in the world – isn’t there, they’ll try manipulate play towards the back.’

Since last year the hosts have changed their lineout formation. Tom Donnelly has replaced Isaac Ross, while they have the unique situation where No 8 Kieran Read makes the calls, a la Matfield. The All Blacks also swapped coaching roles, with Graham Henry taking over the forwards from Steve Hansen for the November tour, but they’ve reverted back to how it was this time last year.

‘You can’t compare Victor to Read. The one is inexperienced, while the other’s been doing it for years.

‘Their coach’s role swapping also didn’t have much of an impact and it all depends on the man power you have. If it had worked for them, they would have stayed that way,’ said Smal.

One of the Kiwis’ main worries is the strength of the driving maul. Smal spoke of how they would try counter the Boks and the importance of referee Alan Lewis’s management of the area.

‘They and the Aussies realise its a big strength of the Bok and European teams. They’ll speak to the ref about the blocker at the back, and say they’re not allowed one in order to expose the jumpers and sack them. They’ll also try take the lifters out before the jumper’s hit the ground. The ref will have to be vigilant there.

‘Obviously the Boks want to use the lineout for other moves, but they’ll use the maul at least three or four times to expose the Kiwis.’

The 2007 World Cup-winning coach is backing the Boks to continue the dominance over their rivals.

‘That Irish game especially would have lulled them into a false sense of security. Ireland had many guys at home and lost a key player early on,’ Smal said in reference to their 65-28 loss with Jamie Heaslip red-carded after 15 minutes. ‘In the beginning they played for territory, but once we were a man down, they tried to open it up. It’s difficult to play them with 15 men, but with 14 it was near impossible.

‘I’m sure the Boks will climb into them and will have too much power. The All Blacks are dangerous from broken play and they’ll try take quick lineouts, but one of the main reasons for last year’s success was the Boks’ purposeful kicking. They’ll do that again and take them ball and all.’

While Smith’s presence in general play around the field has been filled by Francois Louw, the Free State hardman’s ability at the set-pieces is unrivalled by any loose forward in the world. While he’s on compassionate leave for the away leg of the Tri-Nations, Smith will do duty for the Cheetahs and Smal believes the Australasians will try take advantage of his absence at the tail.

He still believes that the Boks can negate this by making more use of Pierre Spies as a tail option, but left no one in doubt that the Spies, Smith and Schalk Burger lineout option among loose-forwards, aligned with the best locking duo of Matfield and Bakkies Botha, with the luxury of Danie Rossouw and Andries Bekker as back up is unrivalled in the current game.

By Grant Ball