Boks: Acid test for ‘little lionhearts’

Cheslin Kolbe (Gallo Images)
Cheslin Kolbe (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The tale of the tape, especially if you were conducting the exercise for pugilistic purposes at Emperors Palace rather than rugby combat at Loftus, is a fairly sobering one.

Springbok right wing Cheslin Kolbe (76kg, 1.72m) against All Black left wing Rieko Ioane (102kg, 1.89m); Springbok No 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi (86kg, 1.87m) against All Black No 14 Waisake Naholo (fluctuating weight suggestions between 96 and 105kg, and 1.86m).

For confirmation of an underdog theme to those berths in the Rugby Championship clash in Pretoria on Saturday, you might wish to throw in the respective experience levels in Test matches: Ioane and Naholo sport 42 appearances between them; Dyantyi and Kolbe 11.

Tries? Well, Ioane is one of those potent individuals - rather like a hot-shot Premier League soccer marksman - whose tally of 20 actually eclipses his Test cap stack of 19, while Naholo, another beneficiary of the world champions’ eternally attack-minded playing style and mastery, boasts 15 dot-downs from 23 games.

Ioane keeps up his “better than a try a game” track record specifically against South Africa, too: four tries from three bilateral encounters.

Fast-emerging poacher Dyantyi, one of the international finds of 2018 thus far, has six tries from eight Tests, including a heartening brace in the famous 36-34 Wellington upset of the All Blacks very recently - his first exposure to those foes.

Kolbe has one try to his name in his particularly fledgling Test career, although it came at a key moment of admirable opportunism, in the Cake Tin humdinger, as a “supersub”: just his second minute on the park, straight after half-time, as he intercepted and streaked away.

So the Springbok fliers can certainly be said to be encouragingly “on the board” against the dual World Cup holders and already-confirmed Rugby Championship 2018 retainers.

But the duo will also be as aware as anyone of the special magnitude of their task this weekend, not just against their muscular, dynamic direct foes but the chastened All Black team as a whole ... a group no doubt still smarting from the one stain on their copybook in this year’s tournament and hell-bent on avenging it, ideally with a bit to spare.

The harsh truth is that New Zealand, helped by the regular visits of their various franchises during Super Rugby seasons, no longer fear playing at high altitude; the modern All Blacks more accurately embrace it, given their up-tempo and so often market-leading brand of rugby.

It is reflected in their track record from the last four Tests at Loftus: NZ wins each time, and usually by comprehensive margins – they have averaged 41 points “for” in the quartet of matches.

Any change to their expansive template is unlikely this Saturday: I still fancy that for all the likelihood of the Boks giving them a tough enough time of it broadly speaking at forward, the All Blacks will wish to ultimately run the hosts off their feet.

Pitch conditions, in contrast to heavier Westpac Stadium three weeks back, should be typically hard and fast in the Pretoria cauldron - the weather looks benign, perfectly set - and that is going to potentially bring the strong-running likes of Ioane and Naholo firmly into their own if the visitors get on the front foot a lot.

So Messrs Dyantyi and Kolbe, anything but a marriage made in heaven as a wide combo in physical terms, truly will have the ultimate examination of their ability to repel the brawny, yet simultaneously swift Naholo and Ioane respectively.

Doing it “front on” is going to be the most challenging part, you would imagine, simply because of the considerable discrepancy in size across both wing duels.

The South African pair have already confirmed their raw courage against larger foes - that is almost beyond dispute - but may have to rely on reasonably fast-arriving support from bigger team-mates to fully bring the All Black pair to the turf in face-to-face situations.

One comfort is that, even if beaten or unceremoniously “bounced” the first time, both Dyantyi and Kolbe are extremely nippy and committed back-tracking defenders; they will find it easier - as many others do, of course - tackling the New Zealand duo from behind.

They would do well to draw heart, too, from a certain, memorable physical mismatch on the Highveld: the 1995 World Cup final when James Small was crucially terrier-like (with some help from friends, like Joost van der Westhuizen and Japie Mulder) in his marking of the then especially freakish, 120kg young juggernaut Jonah Lomu.

Hardly lacking in alertness, counter-attacking zeal or sweet-stepping skills, Dyantyi and Kolbe may also find profit from the long-held theory that when you manage to make big All Black “buses” turn out wide on defence themselves, they don’t always do so that smartly or comfortably ...

Teams:

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse

New Zealand

15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu'inukuafe

Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo'unga, 23 Ryan Crotty

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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England 92/4 (28 ov)
Pakistan 326
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