Midfield choice will be key in Kiwi encounter
If there is a difference that marks out the Springboks and the All Blacks at the moment, it is how the countries have handled their respective problems at centre.
It is true that South Africa’s general backline play, except for the Lions, has gone backwards, while New Zealand took steps to replace their legendary centre pairing of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
In every respect, Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown would have been doing a lot of National Provincial Championship time if it were not for Charlie Ngatai’s inability to recover from countless concussions while Malakai Fekitoa is still trying to find which position works better for him.
However, the structures in New Zealand’s rugby have allowed a young discovery like Lienert-Brown to blossom in the high-pressure cauldron of international rugby.
In the Smith/Nonu retirements, All Black coach Steve Hansen and company lost a combined 197 caps with countless trophy-winning experiences along with World Cups.
While Crotty has vast Super Rugby experience, he will always remain a poor man’s Nonu, but somehow the New Zealand coaching staff have been able to coax the best out of him. Springbok coach Allister Coetzee and his coaching staff have not had the time to work with their centres, but it is a position that will worry them on Saturday.
Having players on form is one thing, but them being confident and believing in their own abilities is what the coaches have to get out of players.
The development of South Africa’s centre combinations will be a true test of Coetzee’s coaching skill. Getting the backs flowing was never his forte at the Stormers even though Damian de Allende, who should be named in the starting lineup in the event of Jesse Kriel not being fit, played his best rugby for Coetzee.
New Zealand are not a side to experiment with new combinations because of the confidence and backing they inject in their players.
The composition of the Bok midfield tomorrow will speak volumes of how they intend to play on Saturday.
The lack of tries from the Boks has been indicative of their inability to create midfield magic but as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.