Boks to face challenges on all fronts

2009-08-08 00:00

AND now for something relatively different.

The Springboks, who followed a simple but effective game plan in squeezing out the All Blacks in Durban last weekend, will have to show greater tactical awareness and versatility to overcome the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations international at Newlands this evening.

The Boks suffocated the All Blacks with their excellent kick-and-chase game in Durban, coming away with a 31-19 victory. But as fullback Frans Steyn has pointed out, the Boks hardly played any rugby with the ball in securing their win. The New Zealanders, capitulating at forward and looking to run at all costs and from all distances, spent much of the evening under pressure, under the high ball and dithering in their own half. This kept Morne Steyn within range and allowed the flyhalf to write his name into the record books and boot the Boks to victory.

Test rugby is about winning and the Boks, in the damp Durban conditions, had the right recipe for victory; this evening they will have to show that they have more than one string to their bow.

The Wallabies, forewarned and prepared, will not make the same mistakes. They will — by hook or by crook — challenge the Bok scrum, compete at the lineout, look to George Smith to dominate the breakdown, kick for territory and patiently take the ball through the phases as they attempt to manipulate the defences. They might be the youngest, least experienced team in the Tri-Nations, but they will be streetwise and tactically far smarter than the All Blacks.

The Springboks, in turn, will have to offer more than the enthusiastic pursuit of high kicks. They have on paper a team for all occasion­s: strong forwards, powerful runners and experienced, world-class players spread across the pitch. Yet they have shown precious little on attack this season with their wings, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, largely ignored. They obviously will not ditch what worked a week ago, but they can be expected to vary their game, build through the phases and attack more with ball in hand than with the boot against a Wallaby team safer under the high ball and with a far better kicking game than the All Blacks.

What will have encouraged the Wallabies was that the All Blacks, for all their passing errors and their naive tactical approach in slippery conditions, somehow stayed in touch with the Boks for long periods last Saturday and threatened on a number of occasions when breaking from broken play.

Had the All Blacks spent as long working on their lineout and handling skills as they did in perfecting another variation of the haka, they might well have won in spite of all their problems.

The danger to the Boks now is that they start believing their own press and the talk that they are on the cusp of greatness. The Wallabies have happily joined the party, talking up the Springboks and, they hope, preparing them for a big fall.

Springbok captain John Smit, within hours of the King’s Park win, was warning his players, and the South African public, of the dangers of “patting themselves on the back”. Until flyhalf Morne Steyn (or Ruan Pienaar) sparks the backs, and tries are created, this will be a Springbok team playing below their enormous potential.

A wary Smit spoke yesterday of the Wallabies’ability to out-think opponents.

“They have different strengths to the All Blacks. They prepare well, they do their homework and they are able to dissect South African rugby and engineer wins over us.”

The Boks will tinker with their game plan, but what will not change will be the importance of gaining control of the forward exchanges. The Boks should hold the edge at the set pieces, while young flank Heinrich Brussow has a critical role to play as he goes head to head with veteran George Smith and attempts to break the Wallaby pattern.

The physicality and experience of the Springbok forwards, backed by the admirable boot of Morne Steyn and an enthusiastic Newlands crowd, should be an insurance against defeat, but no one should expect it to be easy.

JOHN SMIT ON THE TEST: PAGE 54

South Africa (15-1)

Francois Steyn; JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana; Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Pierre Spies, Juan Smith, Heinrich Brussow; Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, John Smit (capt), Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Jannie du Plessis, Danie Rossouw, Andries Bekker, Ricky Januarie, Ruan Pienaar, Adrian Jacobs.

Australia (15-1)

Adam Ashley-Cooper; Lachie Turner, Stirling Mortlock (capt), Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell; Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess; Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Richard Brown; Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill, Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.

Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Ben Alexander, Dean Mumm, David Pocock, Will Genia, Peter Hynes, James O’Connor.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).

On TV

Kick-off: 5 pm — live on M-Net, M-Net HD and SuperSport 1

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