The last time the Springboks and the All Blacks clashed in New Zealand, the South Africans dominated the match for long periods but eventually lost 11-21, thanks to poor goalkicking and the spectacularly negative impact made by second-half replacement Dean Greyling. The upcoming clash in Auckland looks set to be no less dramatic – as the All Blacks have not lost there since 1994. By KEN BORLAND.
The Springboks led 8-5 in Dunedin a year ago, after Bryan Habana had clinically finished a magnificent individual try, shortly before Greyling entered the fray as a replacement for loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira.
He quickly conceded a penalty for hands in the ruck that allowed Aaron Cruden to level the scores and was then yellow-carded just 13 minutes after his arrival for a disgraceful assault on Richie McCaw at a ruck.
Greyling returned with just six minutes to go before the final whistle and fumbled the ball on the All Blacks tryline and conceded another ruck penalty in quick succession.
Unsurprisingly, Greyling was jettisoned from the Springbok squad soon afterwards, but 14 of the players who fell short in Dunedin will be back at Eden Park on Saturday to try and make amends for that frustrating defeat, including Morne Steyn, who succeeded with just one of his five kicks at goal that day.
It would seem the All Blacks may have written off the Springboks before that Dunedin game – “The All Blacks underestimated us in a sense,” coach Heyneke Meyer said this week – but that certainly won’t be the case this weekend.
The backlash from that Dunedin game was immediate as New Zealand thumped South Africa 32-16 at Soccer City in Johannesburg in their next meeting.
The Springboks had also been beaten 26-19 by Australia in Perth the week before that Dunedin match, so in terms of confidence levels and development as a unit, Meyer is in charge of a very different team this weekend.
Much has been made this year of how the Wallabies and All Blacks play a faster-paced game than the Springboks, but Francois Louw, helped by his tight five going forwards, consistently made it to the rucks before his Australian counterparts, heavy men like Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth and Mtawarira put themselves around the park in impressive fashion and the backline has earned itself new respect this season.
The New Zealand Herald, polling their TAB outlets, said this week that six times as much money had been spent on the Springboks than on the home team, which suggests the locals can sense an upset.
But there’s little doubt that, as wonderful as the Brisbane record-breaking win was, the Springboks are going to have to lift their game to even higher levels to beat the All Blacks at a stadium where they have not lost since 1994, and the visitors have not won in Auckland in 76 years.
The Springboks closed down the much-vaunted Australian attacking game last weekend because their forwards were on the front foot and they defended superbly, with impressive anticipation and pace as well as physicality.
But the South Africans should not rely on such forward dominance this weekend and, in Dan Carter, the All Blacks have a flyhalf who is adept at playing on the gain-line and who has a brilliant backline, full of finishers, outside him.
Meyer will peg his hopes on a slight edge at the scrums, where the Springboks have adapted better than anyone to the new engagement sequence, parity at least in the lineouts with the All Blacks fielding two short loose forwards in Sam Cane and Liam Messam, and even more improvement on the floor, where there’s no doubt they surprised the Wallabies last weekend.
So practically the same Springbok pack (only Marcell Coetzee, Andries Bekker, Tiaan Liebenberg and Greyling are absent from last year’s Dunedin encounter) which shaded the All Blacks last year, is now back and hungry to convert their added confidence and greater cohesion into something special.
And Morne Steyn, whose wayward kicking was a major factor in last year’s defeat, has been slap-bang on target with the boot the entire year and, should the All Blacks err under pressure on Saturday, they are likely to be punished.
Steyn, lacking confidence in a torrid year both on and off the field for him, also sat back in the pocket which contributed to a Springbok backline that seemed hesitant on attack.
But the flyhalf has been the archetypal general this year and his backline are coming off a marvellous day in Brisbane when their ability to counter-attack from turnover ball was rewarded with a bonus point.
The All Blacks will be without McCaw on Saturday, leaving them without not only their most potent presence at the breakdowns, but also an inspirational captain who has seen it all at Test level and knows exactly how to snatch wins from out of the fire, particularly against the Springboks.
Coach Steve Hansen has chosen Sam Cane, a more traditional “fetcher”, as his replacement and recalled Messam for his mongrel and physical presence, leaving eighthman Kieran Read and locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick with greater responsibility in the lineouts.
But what a pair of top-class locks Whitelock and Retallick are and a sensational clash awaits between them and the Springboks young tyros, Etzebeth and Van der Merwe.
The match-up between Read, a popular choice as captain in the absence of McCaw, and Vermeulen, who enjoyed a phenomenal game in Brisbane, is also a mouth-watering prospect.
Both teams will try to press the other into their own territory and we are likely to see plenty of tactical kicking, an area the All Blacks were all at sea in when the Springboks last won in New Zealand, in 2009.
But that has changed dramatically, as Meyer points out.
“I know the All Blacks and you know they will always lift themselves for South Africa. They’ve got a really good scrum, a great scrum – there are no weaknesses in that team.
“They have improved – a few years back they weren’t very good at fielding high kicks, but now they have a very good tactical game and they showed against France they can kick more than anyone in the world.
“Their set-pieces have improved over the last few years and they have always had a great scrum. We know we have to be up for the challenge and we know it will be really tough. The odds are against us, but we have to believe and we have to be up for it.
“They were always a team that could score off your mistakes, but suddenly they have a kicking game that is one of the best in the world, and with Dan Carter, someone who can execute it brilliantly. They can play tactically as well.
“It will be a physical, tactical battle that will be very evenly played. Discipline will be very important, as will taking your chances. They are a very experienced side and normally we don’t win here. So we will have to be at our best and use every single opportunity that comes our way,” Meyer said in presidential tones this week.
South Africa: 15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Willie le Roux, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jean de Villiers, 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Flip van der Merwe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Adriaan Strauss, 17-Gurthrö Steenkamp,18-Coenie Oosthuizen, 19-Juandré Kruger, 20-Siya Kolisi , 21-Jano Vermaak, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein.
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Dan Carter, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read, 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Tony Woodcock. Replacements – 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Charlie Faumuina, 19-Steven Luatua, 20-Matt Todd, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Charles Piutau. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Bryan Habana (2nd R) attempts to break past New Zealand defenders during their Rugby Championship union test match in Soweto October 6, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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