The Doornfontein area around Ellis Park is something of a Wild West when it comes to law and order, and horseback patrols are often seen around the stadium on match days. But it is inside the stadium where the Springboks will be looking to run riot on Saturday, needing to beat the All Blacks and pick up a bonus point for four tries in order to claim the Rugby Championship title. By KEN BORLAND.
The All Blacks are well aware of the threat an ever-improving Springbok side poses on attack, but the world champions are in the enviable position of needing just one point from the encounter to retain their southern hemisphere title.
And, as Ian Foster, the assistant coach, revealed on Tuesday, the All Blacks will focus on the same try-scoring game plan that has served them so well over the last few years rather than on trying to stop the Springboks from playing.
It is the obvious approach because the odds are so heavily stacked in New Zealand’s favour and, for the Springboks to score four tries, the game will have to be an open one, increasing the chances of the potent All Blacks also scoring four times and getting the one point they need to clinch the title.
“I’m not clever enough to figure out whether it’s a double-bluff or not that the Springboks are going for four tries, but if you look at the math, then they have to do that to win the tournament.
“We’ve tracked pretty well defensively this year, but we know they’re going to ask a lot of questions, like they did at Eden Park. But it’s not about minimising what they do, we definitely want to play our game. We don’t enjoy sitting and defending for 80 minutes, we enjoy having the ball and that’s what we train for,” Foster said on Tuesday.
There is little doubt that New Zealand and South Africa are some way ahead as the two best sides in the game and 2013 will be the year when those two famous Parks of world rugby – Eden and Ellis – hosted the biggest clashes. What a pity that the Eden Park match was ruined by the shambolic refereeing of Romain Poite.
“The gap between the teams is very small. At this level, if you’re not at 100%, you’ll get beaten. We had a good wake-up call last week against Argentina and it was a tough battle at Eden Park against the Springboks, there wasn’t much in it.
“You can call it what you like, but it is a big game on Saturday, the title and a whole lot of things are on the line,” Foster said.
“We’re expecting a great contest because we’re playing for a massive prize,” Springboks forward coach Johan van Graan said. “It’s the two best teams in the world, New Zealand are the World Cup and Rugby Championship champions and we’re trying to catch them.”
While the blunders of Poite – he probably cost the Springboks at least a bonus point and gifted the All Blacks one – have led to a school of thought that South Africa should just try to win on Saturday and claim a moral victory, Heyneke Meyer and his team obviously believe that, no matter how hard or unlikely it is, they can beat New Zealand, score four tries and prevent the visitors from getting a bonus point.
And the magical aura of Ellis Park, where the Springboks defied an all-conquering All Blacks team in a 1995 World Cup final that went way beyond the game in terms of meaning, does provide some hope.
Of all the venues in world rugby, it is the one where the New Zealanders have struggled the most – winning just three of their 11 matches there. And the Springboks have put 40 points past them in their last two meetings at the intimidating venue, winning 46-40 in 2000 and claiming a whopping 40-26 victory in 2004, a repeat of which would do perfectly this weekend.
And the Springboks have certainly shown enough on attack this year to suggest they can score four tries on Saturday. They’ve posted 19 tries in this year’s Rugby Championship, the same as the All Blacks, who will be relying on their own ever-dangerous attack to also score four tries against a South African defence that has let through two more tries than them.
Never mind the lineouts and the rolling mauls that usually follow on South Africa’s ball or the scrums, both areas in which the Springboks believe they could have an edge if the referee does his job, Saturday’s result will probably depend once again on the breakdowns.
“We won eight turnovers at Eden Park and on the weekend we had guys like Gurthro Steenkamp and Jean de Villiers making steals, so we are where we want to be with that. We’ve had to change mentality, all 23 players have to make the right decisions at the breakdown.
“But if you look at Richie McCaw and Liam Messam, they are world-class at the breakdown and Brodie Retallick, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Tony Woodcock are also a massive nuisance, while Julian Savea counter-rucks in the wide channels,” Van Graan said.
Sam Cane, who is likely to be on the bench on Saturday as McCaw makes a typically miraculous return to action, said the Springboks had obviously worked hard on improving their breakdown play.
“They have a good balance there this year. Willem Alberts is the ball-carrier who gets the ball over the gain-line, Duane Vermeulen is the same and he can mix it up a bit, while Francois Louw is a threat over the ball and someone like Bismarck du Plessis is good at the breakdown as well. They’re quite good at that area now so we have to make sure we don’t let them dominate,” Cane said.
For all the hype about Ellis Park, though, the Springboks certainly cannot rely on the venue to win them the match.
“Special things have happened at Ellis Park, like the 1995 World Cup when we beat New Zealand, but it’s just another rugby field with four lines. And flying back from Argentina to play us didn’t bother the All Blacks last year either, they beat us 32-16.
“I always say the rugby ball has no memory, we will both start on zero,” Van Graan said. DM
Photo: New Zealand All Blacks perform the haka before their Rugby Championship match against Argentina in La Plata September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall