Can Boks do it?

2010-08-21 00:00

THE Springbok’s execution of their game plan will decide the outcome of tonight’s momentous Tri-Nations Test match against the All Blacks in Soweto, captain John Smit said yesterday.

The Boks, he said, had been well below their best in losing three successive Tests in New Zealand and Australia.

“We only have ourselves to blame. The All Blacks haven’t changed a whole lot since last year, but our big problem is that we’ve allowed them to play more.

“Our execution let us down and we have to prevent them from playing the way they want to,” Smit said.

The Bok captain will tonight become only the second player — after Percy Montgomery — to play 100 Tests but said that he would only really savour the moment after the final whistle.

“Playing my 100th against the All Blacks at the Calabash in Soweto in front of 90 000 people will be the most incredible experience of my life.”

But Smit said he did not want his achievement to prove a distraction and this week he had made every effort to keep his 122-kg frame, and the individual milestone, under the radar.

“I think I have successfully done that and our players are aware that getting a result is far more important than one guy getting 100 caps.”

The Springboks are desperate to salvage something from the wreckage of the Tri-Nations by ending the All Blacks’ 13-Test winning streak.

The South Africans will be more competitive than they were in New Zealand. They will be fresher and better prepared after the month’s break since they lost to Australia in Brisbane.

They will also be lifted by massive home support and happy to be back at altitude where conditions suit their kicking game.

But areas of concern remain.

Coach Peter de Villiers has made eight changes to the starting line-up and new combinations at halfback (Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn), in midfield (Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh) and a rejigged back three will take time to settle.

There will be questions asked of the hot-headed, third-choice No 4 lock Flip van der Merwe while the loose trio of Pierre Spies, Schalk Burger and the returning Juan Smith have somehow to match the superb work of Richie McCaw and company at the breakdown.

Graham Henry, the All Black coach, had his tongue in his cheek when he suggested that the Boks would this time round play a running game.

“It’s not going to rain, is it?” he asked provocatively.

Observers at Bok practices this week have said that the emphasis has been on Steyn and Hougaard perfecting the tactic which worked last year when accurate kicking, a strong chase and pressure defence proved highly effective.

The approach tonight will probably be somewhere in between, a mix and match of the two styles rather than trying to play and beat the All Blacks at the high-tempo game or wasting possession by booting it away.

But the Boks will have to be accurate and assured whatever path they follow. They have to break the All Blacks’ attacking rhythm and their organisation in defence, their chase of kicks and the first-time tackling is critical against players who are committed to running the ball back at them.

And, if there is one area where the South Africans have to match the New Zealanders, it is at the tackle. If they do not slow the endless supply of All Black possession from the breakdown, the Boks will again be left to chase fast-moving, ball-carrying shadows.

The All Blacks, slicker, smarter and with three successive wins, need just one bonus point from their remaining two games to settle the Tri-Nations, but captain McCaw said there was no complacency in the camp.

“If this team is to keep improving, we can’t just sit back and allow things to happen,” he said. “You’ve got to keep driving things the way you want to. That’s the key.”

The Springboks have even more at stake and by the final whistle we will know whether they still have the players and tactical awareness to remain a major force in world rugby … and whether centurion John Smit can celebrate the rest of the night in style.

 

TEAMS

Springboks: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.

Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Francois Louw, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Butch James, 22 Wynand Olivier.

All Blacks: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.

Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 John Afoa, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Israel Dagg.

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

Kick-off: 5 pm.

 

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