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RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP

‘Mbombardment’– All Blacks shuffle the pack and grumble about Boks’ aerial game

‘Mbombardment’– All Blacks shuffle the pack and grumble about Boks’ aerial game
Coach Ian Foster at an All Blacks training session at Sky Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, on 26 July 2022. (Photo: Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images)

The All Blacks have made three changes to the pack and one in the backline for the return Test against the Springboks at Ellis Park this weekend.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster made minimal changes to his side, in what could be his last Test in charge, for Saturday’s return clash against the Springboks at Ellis Park.

Instead of overhauling the team that lost 26-10 in Nelspruit to their old foes, Foster has asked referees and touch judges to pay more attention to the Springboks’ kicking game. You know, the one that his side couldn’t cope with in Mbombela.

Brutal Boks destroy All Blacks despite red card

Richie Mo’unga will start at flyhalf in the only change to the backline, while young props Tyrel Lomax and Ethan de Groot have been called to start. Flank Shannon Frizell, who scored a late try in Nelspruit after coming off the bench, will also start.

Prop George Bower, who started last week, has been retained on the bench while fellow front rower Fletcher Newell could make his debut from the bench.

Foster’s selection is a concession that his pack was well beaten in Nelspruit, but by retaining the same back three, he hasn’t addressed the aerial shortcomings through selection.

Wings Will Jordan and Caleb Clarke and fullback Jodie Barrett struggled to cope with the Boks’ kicking game.

Perhaps they have come up with a new plan in the few days between Tests, or perhaps Foster is banking on referee Luke Pearce and his assistants taking a more sympathetic view of the All Blacks in the aerial contest. If so, it’s a risky ploy.

Nienaber continues to show single-minded clarity with five changes for All Blacks backlash

Tough situation

Foster is obviously in a tough situation after five losses in the past six Tests, which included a home 2-1 series defeat against Ireland. Barring thrashing the Boks at Ellis Park, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious way he can survive.

New Zealand Rugby held one review after the Irish series defeat and the upshot was they axed assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar, but retained Foster. Whatever happens this weekend, there will be another review.

When it came to an internal review of their Mbombela performance, which Foster described as a “step-up in performance”, the main theme, it appears, was that the Boks’ kicking game is not on.

It certainly carries an element of risk. Bok wing Kurt-Lee Arendse was red-carded and later suspended for four weeks after his mistimed jump up-ended flyhalf Beauden Barrett. The decorated All Black landed dangerously on his head.

Boks set to compound All Blacks’ misery at Ellis Park citadel

And that is the risk the Boks carry because they have to get it right otherwise they may lose a player to a red card. But to suggest the entire tactic needs to be questioned smacks of desperation from the All Blacks.

Foster, and Beauden Barrett later in the week, presented a bad cop/good cop duo to the media to lament the Boks’ aerial bomb tactic. You know, the one the All Blacks used to deploy so effectively with No 8 Kieran Read in the tramlines.

“It is a big part of their game,” Foster told Sky Sport. “We’re going to have a look at them chucking bodies in the air, we were pretty frustrated with that.

“The one in the first half we weren’t very happy with, and certainly the last one, was very dangerous.

“But that’s part of the game we’ve got to sort out. If they’re going to just chuck bodies up, and just throw people up in the air, it’s a very hard thing to deal with. That’s the game. We missed one and they scored, and that got them the early momentum.”

Is the lack of exposure to South Africa’s physicality behind the All Blacks’ slump?

Barrett later went on All Blacks TV and spoke of his horror clash with Arendse: “I did think of the worst instantly… I can’t remember who told me to stay still,” Barrett said. “It wasn’t until [the doctor] came on and asked me, could I move my fingers and toes?

“I was relieved I passed all those tests and eventually sat up and was able to walk off.

Beauden Barrett of New Zealand on the run against the Springboks in their Rugby Championship clash at Mbombela Stadium on 6 August 2022. (Photo: Dirk Kotze / Gallo Images / Getty Images)

“There was a fearful period there for a minute or so when you think of the worst. It’s quite scary when you go over backwards and find yourself come down on your head and shoulders.

“It’s part of the game and, every time we go up for the high ball we’ve got to be courageous.”

Barrett has been relegated to the bench for the Ellis Park clash where the Boks have a chance to win the Freedom Cup for the first time since 2009.

Boks comfortable with tactics

Despite Foster’s grumbling, the Springboks are unlikely to change their tactics and will continue to test the All Blacks’ back three at Ellis Park.

“We know that the aerial battle is a very important part of our game and I must commend our players for their fearlessness when they’ve competed for the ball in the air,” assistant coach Deon Davids said this week.

“Also, when they receive kicks on them, how they handle that. Looking back at previous games, there has really been a step up from us in our execution.

“Because we kick contestable kicks, there will always be a contest in the air, and in terms of that I think players like Kurt-Lee and (Makazole) Mapimpi were outstanding in going up for the high ball.

“There might be one or two cases where their judgement may be at fault, but there was nothing done intentionally to put us or the opponent in a difficult position.”

Foster at least conceded that despite his misgivings about the aerial kicking contest, the Boks had executed it well.

“They played their (style of) game well… under pressure they went to the kicking game and that put us under a lot of pressure,” Foster said in the aftermath of Mbombela.

“For us, I actually thought it was a step up in performance from the last series. The line-out worked well, the maul defence was good and our overall defence was pretty solid.

“We perhaps just missed a little bit of timing in terms of our attack. We will have to go and look at that.” DM

New Zealand

15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Shannon Frizell 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Samson Taukei’aho, 1 Ethan de Groot

Reserves: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Quinn Tupaea

Gallery

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