Wellington, with a population of around 165,000 people, is the most southern capital city in the world. It also hosts the ground where South Africa will open its World Cup campaign against Wales, 9/11 2011. Hopefully the emotional scars from this Saturday’s drubbing won’t carry over into the starting-line up for that match.
The Boks’ performance last week had fans lunging for the remote control and switching to synchronised swimming by half time. Those that did endure the full 80 minutes would have been cursing the inept display, even by the standards of what was largely South Africa’s second-string side. A victory was never on the cards for this team, with many untested and inexperienced combinations, but even so, a more dogged defeat than the tame surrender offered up was the least we expected.
But before we go Bok-bashing too much we need to bear in mind the bigger picture of the Rugby World Cup that looms large just over the horizon. Only 42 days away, we should all be accepting the bitter pill of a Tri-Nations hammering in lieu of starting with as many fit and rested Springbok superstars as possible. Steve Hansen, the All Black assistant coach, reaffirmed this position this week, stating that no-one cared about losing the Tri-Nations in a World Cup year, and going on to say South Africa were doing the right thing by resting injured and tired players.
While Pieter de Villiers and company shrug off the local controversy of hosting a training camp for his supposedly injured 23 A-listers, the team were preparing for the stern test from the men in black. At the time of writing the Bok line-up had yet to be released, but indications are the only starting line-up changes will be injury enforced. Which is a such a shame.
Given the inconsequential outcome of this match, this would have been a perfect opportunity to give exciting youngsters like Pat Lambie and Charl McCleod a starting opportunity against the premier team in world rugby. We already know what Morné Steyn can do and Ruan Pienaar has proven to be a distant third behind Fourie du Preez and Francois Hougaard at scrumhalf. So why not give the Sharks duo a test for the ages?
While the Bok scrum managed to maintain some respectability last week against the Aussies, they will need to dramatically improve against the ABs if they are to prevent a massacre up-front. Even with the resting of Keven Mealamu, the front-row of Ben Franks, Andrew Hore and Wyatt Crockett form an intimidating prospect of pain for any opponents, let alone the B-team.
Lineouts were one of the major concerns in last week’s drubbing by Australia and the Kiwis will no doubt be looking to emulate the performance of their trans-Tasman cousins. Without Victor Matfield marshalling the troops, it was as though the Bok jumpers had brought knives to a lineout gunfight. With Ali Wiliams, Adam Thompson and Jerome Kaino taking on the aerial set-piece duties, we can expect more of the same dominance over the Bok lineout.
It’s usually at this stage of the preview report where the opposition captain mumbles something about being “wary of a wounded Springbok”. And all through this week, interviews from the Kiwis have been filled with such mumbo-jumbo. But even they are fully aware that not even the worst case of complacency can result in a home-team defeat on Saturday. The bookies have given the All Blacks 17 points on the Boks for Saturday, which is probably being too kind – for the Boks.
I’m positive we’ll see a much better performance this week, with more gusto and fervour than was on display last weekend. But after the 50 or 60 minutes of good rugby this team has to offer is over and done with, we should see the Kiwi’s run in some pretty good tries and post a reasonably large score. Even with showers forecast for match day, the Boks will most likely be run ragged from the amount of tackles (if they make them this week) to allow for a few easy tries late in the game.
The All Blacks have, bar two or three players, their first-choice team out on the park. With the firepower they possess upfront and clinical finishing talent out wide, it could be an evening where 15 green-and-gold jerseys spend much of their time behind the poles. In fact, Supersport would do well to put up a warning for young and sensitive viewers before the match kicks off. DM
Date: Saturday, 30 July
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 (07:35 GMT) (09:35 CAT)
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Stuart Dickinson (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Weather Forecast: Showers with easing southerly winds in the evening.
All Blacks -15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 John Afoa, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Photo: New Zealand All Blacks players perform the haka before their rugby union match against Scotland at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland November 13, 2010. REUTERS/David Moir
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