Rock-solid defence only hope in upsetting skilful Kiwis
It’s the Springbok pack against the All Blacks’ ruthlessness and skill, and on the face of it there can be only one winner in today’s Rugby Championship clash at Newlands.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has filled his pack with large, powerful men in the hope of unsettling the seemingly unflappable All Blacks in the set piece and the contact points.
Lock Pieter-Steph du Toit will play blindside while exceptional loosehead Steven Kitshoff makes his first test start after 18 appearances on the bench. He takes over from the equally impressive Tendai Mtawarira, who after 32 consecutive Tests, pulled out for “personal reasons”.
Lock Lood de Jager returns for his first start since last November when he started against Wales and will partner Eben Etzebeth in the second row. Franco Mostert drops to the bench, giving the Boks some useful firepower for later in the game.
Despite talking up their ball-in-hand approach, Coetzee’s selections indicate that the Boks might just tuck the ball under their jerseys and maul. It won’t be that simple of course, but it’s unlikely the Boks will risk playing as much rugby behind the gainline as they did against Australia last week.
The last time they met the All Blacks, it ended in a 57-0 loss in Albany and one of the major weaknesses the Boks had that day was a lineout that malfunctioned alarmingly under pressure.
All Black lock Sam Whitelock is a great reader of lineout play and will again look to impose himself on the Boks’ ball, but without Brodie Retallick who misses the match due to personal tragedy, the Boks will be under slightly less pressure.
“In Albany we lost five of our own balls but I think they were down to our own execution errors as a unit,” De Jager said.
“They did put pressure on us, but we need to focus on controlling what we can and execute.”
Where the Boks really need to be on song though is on defence. The British & Irish Lions showed that intense line speed was effective in suffocating flyhalf Beauden Barrett and by extension the All Black attack.
But it’s far easier said than done and the Boks don’t employ a pure rush defence. The key remains speed off the mark and total commitment to the plan.
Another aspect that will have to be spoton for the Boks is the protection of possession because there has never been a better team at exploiting turnovers than these All Blacks. In Albany they hardly touched the ball in the opening quarter but scored three tries from Bok errors.
“The All Blacks are very dangerous from turnover attack so we will have to respect possession and not force any 50/50 offloads,” Bok skipper Etzebeth said.
“We have to keep the ball and also make sure we put points on the board when in control, like we were in those first 15-20 minutes in Albany.”
The All Blacks have superb weapons in every department and coach Steve Hansen has made only one enforced change to the starting lineup that won 57-0 with Scott Barrett replacing Retallick.
He has retained last week’s debutant David Havili on the bench instead of the more experienced Anton Leinert-Brown, while all five players who stayed in NZ instead of travelling to Argentina to face the Pumas are in the squad.
Whitelock, flanks Sam Cane and Liam Squire and centre Ryan Crotty – four of the five – start with flyhalf Lima Sopoaga on the bench.
It doesn’t matter how you look at this team, there are simply no obvious weaknesses. The Boks need to do everything perfectly and hope the All Blacks make a few errors under pressure to have any hope of victory.
Outside of the Bok camp though, winning for the home team is probably too much to hope for. An improved performance and a tighter scoreline might be a step in the right direction.
“Yes, the performance will be important for the image and state of Springbok rugby, but we always prepare for every game to execute the plan as best we can,” De Jager said. “The most important thing is to not make a big deal out of the game itself.”
Unfortunately Springbok versus All Black games are a big deal and another humiliation could be a step towards the door marked “exit” for coach Allister Coetzee.
Teams: South Africa: 15-Andries Coetzee; 14-Dillyn Leyds, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11-Courtnall Skosan; 10-Elton Jantjies, 9-Ross Cronje; 8-Francois Louw, 7-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6-Siya Kolisi, 5-Lood de Jager, 4-Eben Etzebeth (capt), 3-Ruan Dreyer, 2-Malcolm Marx, 1-Steven Kitshoff. Reserves: 16-Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17-Trevor Nyakane 18-Wilco Louw, 19-Franco Mostert, 20-Jean-Luc du Preez, 21-Rudy Paige, 22-Handre Pollard, 23-Damian de Allende. New Zealand: 15-Damian McKenzie; 14-Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13-Ryan Crotty, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 11-Rieko Ioane; 10-Beauden Barrett, 9-Aaron Smith; 8-Kieran Read (capt), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Squire, 5-Scott Barrett, 4-Sam Whitelock; 3-Nepo Laulala, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Kane Hames. Reserves: 16-Codie Taylor, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Matt Todd, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Lima Sopoaga, 23-David Havili.