Boks have their work cut out

2012-10-06 00:00

SOUTH African expectations are running wild, but the Springboks will have to play out of their skins if they are to beat the All Blacks in their final Rugby Championship Test at Soccer City in Soweto this evening.

The Springboks’ five-try, 31-8 win over the Wallabies last Saturday has buoyed the South African rugby public and their Loftus display did confirm that their vigorous forward effort — in a narrow loss — to the All Blacks in Dunedin in mid-September was no flash in the pan.

But the All Blacks, in spite of the long trek from Argentina and the altitude factor, will be stronger today.

The South Africans, in Dunedin, surprised the All Blacks forwards and their backs, who, without the steadying influence of flyhalf Dan Carter, suffered under pressure.

But, as we saw in their dominant weekend display against the Pumas in La Plata, the New Zealanders have already tightened their forward play, while the composed Carter is back to marshal the backline.

Captain Jean de Villiers said South Africans should not read too much into the Loftus win against the injury-hit Wallabies, adding the Boks would have to take their game to “the next level” to beat the All Blacks.

“We have to look at this in perspective. We’re not suddenly a great team after winning that one game. We have to be better and improvement in South Africa is only measured in terms of results.”

The All Blacks, forewarned and with Carter running the show, will improve on their Dunedin form, but so too will the Boks. With the young Johan Goosen at flyhalf and Bryan Habana flourishing again on the wing, they are developing a backline which has the skill and willingness to turn pressure into points. (The one concern at Loftus last week was the lateral running of the backs and one hopes the Bok coaches have remedied that failing).

Coach Heyneke Meyer says that the Boks need to land 80% of their attempts on goal if the All Blacks are to be beaten and Goosen, over his bruised heel, has been handed the kicking duties.

De Villiers said his 20-year-old rookie flyhalf will not be undone by the pressure.

“Not a lot bothers this guy. He just gets on with the job. And the bigger the event, the bigger will be his response. His heel has settled down a bit and that will give him more confidence.”

The All Blacks, with 15 successive victories, are chasing the 17 straight wins shared by Gary Teichmann’s Springboks and New Zealand.

“It scares the living daylights out of me that, if the All Blacks win here, they can go on to 23, 24 Tests unbeaten after their end of the year tour,” said De Villiers.

The Springboks are certain to play a more tactical, territorial game than was evident against the Wallabies, when the control of their forwards allowed them to play with greater freedom.

If they are to win tonight, they have to strangle the All Blacks, forcing them to play in their own half.

And, as they did in Dunedin, they have to cut off the New Zealand backs from their forwards and force them to play from behind the gainline.

The All Blacks will enjoy a free-flowing contest, one of turnovers, counter-attacks and angled running, and Meyer will want his Boks to adopt a tighter, more structured approach to restrict the New Zealanders.

All Black Richie McCaw said yesterday that his captain’s run had been cancelled to conserve the players’ energy and added that no motivation was needed although the Rugby Championship had already been decided.

“If you can’t get excited for a Test against the Boks, then you should be doing something else with your life,” he said. “We’ve been mentally and physically preparing ourselves for this for the last two weeks and are really looking forward to the contest.”

It promises to be a marvellous contest in front of a massive crowd at the Calabash. The heart says that the occasion will lift the desperate Springboks to a romantic upset, with Goosen winning the first of many Tests for his country with the boot. Cold logic suggests that the slickness and clinical finishing of the world champion All Blacks will prevail.

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