MIX things up, keep them guessing, and don’t be predictable
MIX things up, keep them guessing, and don’t be predictable.
That’s the only way the Springboks are going to stop the All Blacks machine when the teams meet in a Rugby Championship match in Wellington on Saturday.
Head coach Rassie Erasmus would have done his planning for this match months ago – he is, after all, a meticulous planner and one of this country’s pre-eminent rugby brains – and fans can only hope he has thought of some inventive out-of-the-box stuff that will come as a big surprise when the match kicks off.
Because, if Erasmus and his Boks think the best way to take on the world’s best team is by out-muscling them and by physically dominating them – the so-called South African strengths – then they may as well not even run onto the field at Westpac Stadium.
The All Blacks don’t get bullied, they don’t allow themselves to be bashed around, so if you’re going to match them and try to actually beat them, you’re going to have to come up with something a little different, something unexpected.
The in-your-face attitude by the Boks will only go so far and the touchline-kick-and-driving-maul ploy will also only score you so many tries, if you get one at all.
Not even the driving maul specialists, the Lions, were able to crack the defences of the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final; and it’s doubtful the Boks will manage it against the All Blacks, who, man for man, have the far superior pack.
We’ve heard all sorts of plans and ways to get the better of the All Blacks this weekend – from Brendan Venter and Peter de Villiers, who seem to suggest the Boks mustn’t move too far away from their traditional strengths, that they should keep things tighter than ever before.
Well, that’s worked a treat in the past the Boks took a 57-0 beaten at this stage in North Harbour last year, and have hardly challenged the All Blacks’ status as the game’s ultimate team.
Yes, the Boks cannot afford to be sloppy with the ball, they need to guard it like it is the most precious stone ever found, and they need to have parity in the set-pieces and tackle like demons. But they’re going to need more than that if they’re to stop the black machine.
The thing is, Kieran Read and his team will score 30-plus points – most coming in the second half when the All Blacks’ superior fitness, skill and speed normally kills off the opposition – meaning for the Boks to be in the contest, they also have to score 30-plus points. And to do that they’re going to have to bring more than their muscle to the contest.
Erasmus’s Boks were one-dimensional in their defeat to the Wallabies a week ago, with one-off runners easy to pick off, and if they go that route again, the All Blacks will be smiling.
Steve Hansen and his men will have prepared for the “Bok way” and they’ll defend it.
What the Boks will need is variety in attack; changes of direction in play, kicks into space, to the wings, dummy runners, angled runners; different runners. Hopefully, and crucially, Erasmus and his coaching team haven’t over-thought the Test, the challenge, what needs to be done.
As former All Blacks wing John Kirwan said on the New Zealand programme The Breakdown this week, the Boks need to be allowed to “play” and not be hamstrung by over-thinking things.
The All Blacks’ speed of play and their counter-attacking ability, from the props to the men coming on from the bench, are on another level.
The Boks have to show the same kind of killer instinct and variety if they’re to have any chance of going toe-to-toe with the world’s best.
That is the challenge for Erasmus and his team come Saturday.