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All Blacks will test the Boks

Springboks player Bongi Mbonambi (left) in action during Round 6 of the Rugby Championship match against New Zealand’s All Blacks at CBus Stadium on on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, 02 October 2021. Picture: EPA, Dave Hunt

IT WAS interesting to hear Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber this week explain what he expects from the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship.

Of course, the Kiwis are on the ropes after the 2-1 series loss to Ireland in New Zealand, and coach Ian Foster is feeling the heat after surviving the axe.

Forwards coach John Plumtree and attack guru Brad Mooar were shown the door, though, and Jason Ryan of the Crusaders has been brought in to sort out the pack, while former Irish boss Joe Schmidt is still in the mix in an analysis role, and has now been made a selector ahead of the first Test against the Boks at Mbombela Stadium next Saturday.

“It will probably be a bit different to the challenge that we faced against Wales. I think New Zealand – with the athletes that they have and the skill-set they have available to them – it is probably going to be a game that will be built around a lot of continuity, and maybe moving the ball around a bit,” Nienaber said about the All Blacks.

“Then again, they don’t shy away from set-piece battles, which they showed against Ireland. So, I think it will be a blend of set-piece battles, and a little more continuity than what we saw in the Welsh series.

“In saying that, I think Wales really tested us. If you think of the try that they scored in Cape Town from the restart, they kept the ball alive and kept good continuity going, so it’s probably going to be a challenge like that.”

Nienaber admitted that the Boks “weren’t perfect against Wales, by no means”, adding that they had a reality check after a review on Monday at their training camp in Hazyview, Mpumalanga, and that they needed to “fix our own stuff”.

One would hope that a big part of that would be adjusting their attack. In fact, there needs to be a shift to the strategy used in that memorable 2019 Rugby World Cup final performance against England in Yokohama if the South Africans want to stop a fired-up All Black outfit.

Don’t be fooled by the series defeat to Ireland. New Zealand will be much better this time around. They know how to beat the Boks, especially in South Africa. Since 2012, the Kiwis have won six out of seven Tests in Mzansi – with the only loss coming at Ellis Park in 2014, when Pat Lambie slotted a late penalty to secure a 27-25 win.

They also won the World Cup pool match in Japan, and last year’s Rugby Championship games in Australia ended 1-1 between the two teams.

Their all-out attacking approach will be on show at Mbombela Stadium and Ellis Park this time around, even though they will be missing some serious players such as props Joe Moody, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Nepo Laulala, lock Brodie Retallick, flank Ethan Blackadder and centres Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue.

Foster is reportedly going to be more hands-on with the backline coaching following the departure of Mooar – with Schmidt adding a special touch too – and he will know what made the All Blacks tick on former boss Steve Hansen’s watch.

If Barrett brothers Beauden and Jordie get going – perhaps at fullback and wing, so that Richie Mo’unga is at flyhalf – and Rieko Ioane is put in space, the Bok defence will be severely tested, so Nienaber’s men cannot just rely on playing their usual percentage game of box-kicks, driving mauls and scrum penalties to beat the All Blacks.

They need to add the “icing on the cake” that we saw in all its glory in the World Cup final. It goes without saying that the Boks will look to gain physical dominance and get their maul going, but what they do with that possession will determine the result.

Not having Cheslin Kolbe is a huge blow in that regard, as he can create something out of nothing, but Kurt-Lee Arendse is in a similar mould.

There is also still the magic of Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi in unison, and then any of Damian Willemse, Warrick Gelant and Willie le Roux can unlock defences from fullback.

But those players must be allowed to strut their stuff with ball-in-hand, whether through phase-play or counter-attacks, and not just kick it back and hope the All Blacks make mistakes.

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