Rain could be a bonus

2013-09-11 00:00

THE All Blacks are hoping it stays dry, but the Springboks care not a jot if Saturday’s Rugby Championship international is played at a wet Eden Park in Auckland.

The New Zealanders have not lost in Auckland since 1994, but they are treading warily after first losing inspirational captain Richie McCaw to injury against the Pumas last Saturday and then hours later watching the Springboks demolish the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Heavy downpours are predicted for tomorrow and Friday, while there is an 80% chance of more rain on Saturday.

Veteran centre Conrad Smith said the All Blacks still wanted to play their attacking style, even if it is wet, but said they would have to be smarter than they were against the Pumas when they made numerous errors in the difficult conditions.

“We were keen to play and we didn’t really want the rain to stop us, but we realise that we just have to sacrifice some of the way we want to play and be smart,” Smith said.

He said that the New Zealanders were hoping to unleash their backs on a hard pitch, but added that the Springboks would provide the All Blacks with their greatest test since the 2011 Rugby World Cup final.

“We’re certainly viewing it as the biggest challenge since the World Cup, so we’re prepared for a big game,” the veteran centre said.

“We’re up against a team that’s coming over with form.

“They’re playing some really good footy and, if we’re not up to the mark, then we’re going to come second,” said Smith.

The South Africans, with a brawny, strong pack, would welcome a heavy field which would slow down the more mobile All Blacks, though neither backline coach Ricardo Loubscher nor flyhalf Morné Steyn admitted it yesterday.

In an audio link-up from Auckland, both said that the Springboks wanted to play a ball-in-the-hand style of rugby, one which brought four tries against the Wallabies in Brisbane.

Loubscher said the team always went on to the field to score tries, but their approach depended on the conditions, the referee and the defence on the day.

Steyn said the Springboks had the ability to adapt to any conditions, but they would prefer to play on a dry field.

“I don’t think we have to change anything, it will just be more a kicking battle if it is wet. It will be up to the scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback to dictate where we play.”

Loubscher said that tactical kicking played a major role in all teams’ tactics, citing statistics that the All Blacks had, indeed, kicked more than the Springboks (74 to 67) this season.

Loubscher said he was delighted with the way the backs had performed against the Wallabies, but said that the forwards had made it all possible.

He said he was particularly pleased with the way fullback Zane Kirchner and wing Willie le Roux had performed after their selections had been widely criticised.

“It was very satisfying how they played off each other. They complement each other well, probably because Willie is also a fullback. It’s an exciting combination for us.

“Willie’s style of play definitely had an influence on Zane, and perhaps they are willing to back themselves more. We have the confidence that this is a combination that will slowly but surely grow.”

There is, however, concern in the Springbok camp with the appointment of Frenchman Romain Poite as the referee. Irishman George Clancy was initially appointed, but he took over the Brisbane Test when the injured Alain Rolland withdrew.

Poite was in charge of the Springbok Test against Scotland in June when the breakdown was a shambles.

The Springboks excelled at the breakdown against the Wallabies, turning over possession on 15 occasions. Their success in that area, and a tackle count of 112 with over 90% success rate, were critical factors in their win.

The Test on Saturday kicks off at 9.35 am (SA time).

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