Matching up the men

2014-10-04 00:00

FULLBACKS

Willie le Roux

The Cheetahs flyer has had some criticism after not delivering his usual X-factor performances. However, the past two games have been against Australia and the All Blacks, whose defensive structures have nullified him. If good weather prevails (as predicted), Le Roux might have a chance to add flair and set up tries. He has added another attacking option in off-set pieces, which have helped take pressure off Handré Pollard. Le Roux will have a busy day as the All Blacks try to pin the Boks in their half.

Israel Dagg

Dagg has been returning to the form that saw him lay claim to being one of the best fullbacks in world rugby. He has been solid at the back and his ability to join the line on attack, and run the ball back when it is kicked on him, has given his side good go-forward. He will be under the microscope, but given the way the Boks kept the ball in hand last weekend, he might not be receiving many kicks. With Ben Smith and Julian Savea around, the All Blacks’ back three are probably the most dangerous in rugby.

WINGS

Bryan Habana

Habana has been cleared to play after suffering a slight concussion last week. His contributions in the tournament have been immense, especially in the narrow loss to the All Blacks in Wellington. Not only was he dangerous on attack, but he was as good as No 8 Duane Vermeulen at contesting for All Black ball on the ground. That work rate will be crucial as the Boks showed how pressure builds when the All Blacks are starved of continuity. He will have to keep an eye on opposite wing Ben Smith, who is deceptively fast and strong.

Julian Savea

All Black coach Steve Hansen has said that Savea has become better than legendary wing Jonah Lomu and it is hard to dispute that. He has scored four tries in the tournament and is extremely dangerous on attack. Weighing over 100 kg with pace to burn, he has been a danger all over the park. Not only will opposite number Cornal Hendricks have to be wary of him, but the Springbok loose trio will have to be tight on cover defence to nullify his line breaks. With 27 tries in 27 tests, he is yet to cross the whitewash against the Boks in 11 outings.

SCRUM HALVES

Francois Hougaard

Hougaard made a statement with his man-of-the-match performance against Australia last week. His passing game was crisp and he made quick decisions. His real contributions came on defence — in one instance he made two tackles in a row that denied the Aussies a try. The change of style to keep the ball in hand definitely suits Hougaard and his natural running game. He will have to bring the same tempo to this game as Aaron Smith is equally nippy around the fringes. It is also a chance to prove to coach Heyneke Meyer that he is the go-to man leading up to the World Cup.

Aaron Smith

The way Smith bosses his forwards around makes him sound like a taskmaster but it has been an important part of the All Black pack’s performances. Smith’s ability to read the game and direct players is reminiscent of Fourie du Preez, and he is getting better. Despite his small stature, Smith has been outstanding for the All Blacks in the past two seasons and has solidified his spot as the first-choice scrum half. He will have to kick well today to give the All Blacks territorial advantage if they are to quell the Boks’ momentum. He will also be on the lookout for Hougaard.

LOCKS

Victor Matfield

The Springbok veteran has been a revelation in the Rugby Championships, despite questions over his age and ability to keep up with younger players. Matfield is still the work horse of old and although he doesn’t smash players back like Willem Alberts, he is solid on defence and does work at the breakdown. He is still the lineout king of world rugby and proves that in every game. The Boks will have to use this and may consider kicking for touch in the All Blacks half instead of going for poles, knowing that Matfield is there for the lineout.

Sam Whitelock

Whitelock has become the All Black line-out guru and his absence in recent weeks was notable as they struggled to gain ascendancy from the set piece. His return will be crucial in helping New Zealand secure ball from throw-ins and he will try to disrupt Matfield. His usual partner, Brodie Retalick, is out of the clash and the All Blacks will miss the “enforcer”. Whitelock will have to step up to try to meet the Boks’ big ball carriers. If the All Blacks can secure their lineout ball with Whitelock, they have a good maul that is hard to stop close to the line.

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