Preview: South Africa versus New Zealand

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 08:16

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND SIX: It is, sadly, a match that has lost its shine - at least for the present.

The All Blacks still pretend that it is the high-profile match it once was - possibly to avoid the fatal effects of overconfidence.

But the truth is that the present gulf between the two teams is not just the Indian Ocean.

For rugby this is a sad state of affairs, because this has been for 95 years the greatest rivalry in the rugby world.

When the two teams met last - in Christchurch last month - there were even South Africans relieved that the defeat (13-41) had not been bigger, even though it was the highest New Zealand score against the Springboks since 2006.

Last year the points difference in the World Cup semifinal at Twickenham had been only two points, but the Springboks have not improved since then - not at all.

Ah, but this match is at home.

In the last 10 years the All Blacks have played 11 times in South Africa and won seven times.

That suggests they can do it again.

Springbok supporters want more than home-ground advantage.

They would also like a far better performance from their team - and the bounce of the ball - and help from the weather, like humid wetness or preferably heavy rain.

But they know that not even that will help, for the All Blacks have played some excellent rugby in 'difficult' conditions.

In fact it could well be wet with rain forecast on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

But that apart, it was in Durban that South Africa came back from 5-23 down to win 24-23 in 1998 (on their way to a Tri-Nations title) and it was in Durban that Morné Steyn scored all of South Africa's points in a 31-19 win in 2009 (again on their way to a Tri-Nations win).

Last week the Springboks were better against the Wallabies, but heaven knows what the All Blacks could achieve with the 79 percent possession that the Wallabies got in the first half - certainly a lot more than the Wallabies managed.

New Zealand play differently from the Wallabies.

To the All Blacks phases are things of many passes where each ball-carrier runs straight, shoulders parallel to the goal-line, and passes to and in front of the man next to him.

The Springboks will tackle bravely and strongly, but the All Blacks will take no notice and just carry on running and passing till - lo and behold - somebody has a clean run to the try-line.

Both sides should have good tight phases though in Christchurch the All Blacks were the ones to win Springbok line-outs and the Springboks were the ones more penalised at the scrums.

If the Springboks are as prodigal with possession as they were against the Wallabies they are in for a long, sore afternoon.

Post tackle possession is always vital. Judicious kicking is also vital. In fact if the game does become a real contest, it will demand good, fast decision-making and intense concentration.

Players to Watch:

For South Africa: Of the Springboks there will be particular interest in Francois Louw and Adriaan Strauss, two of the stars against the Wallabies who did so well at the breakdowns. Will they be able to do it again? And will Francois de Klerk make the best of his recall, aware of the difference the speed and accuracy of Rudy Paige's service made to his flyhalf and others? Athletic, energetic Pieter-Steph du Toit will catch the eye.

For New Zealand: Beauden Barrett, such a surprising player of exciting instinct. The same is true of Ben Smith. Both of them are players whose speed and vision enable them to change the course of a game in a nanosecond. And then there is a relative rookie in Anton Lienert-Brown, who can play and let play in the best tradition of great outside centres. And you will see TJ Perenara. If Francois de Klerk again adopts his eccentric defensive position of last match, Perenara will again have a picnic. Then there is Dane Coles, strong and fast, who can do all that an oustanding hooker can do at close quarters and then do what a wing can do far out.

Head to Head: Francois de Klerk versus TJ Perenara. There is always a scrap between scrumhalves who are so often in close contact. Perky Perenara may well be delivered of better ball, but De Klerk can spring greater surprises, if only he remembers that he is primarily a scrumhalf and not a roaming back. Damian de Allende versus Ryan Crotty. Crotty, head up and laughing, is a creative player but also one who scores tries. In defence De Allende, who has been hiding his skills of late, will be eager to dominate his New Zealand opponent. Front Row versus Front Row, and here the Springboks may well have a strong card to play in their benched props, Stephen Kitshoff and Julian Redelinghuys. Morné Steyn versus Beauden Barrett. The generalship of a flyhalf is always vital to a team's success. Steyn has no easy task but he does have experience and he was the hero of that match in 2009.

Recent Results
2016: New Zealand won 41-13, Christchurch
2015: New Zealand won 20-18, London (World Cup semifinal)
2015: New Zealand won 27-20, Johannesburg
2014: South Africa won 27-25, Johannesburg
2014: New Zealand won 14-10, Wellington
2013: New Zealand won 38-27, Johannesburg
2013: New Zealand won 29-15, Auckland
2012: New Zealand won 21-11, Dunedin
2012: New Zealand won 32-16, Soweto
2011: South Africa won 18-5, Port Elizabeth
2011: New Zealand won 40-7, Wellington

Results in Durban
2009: South Africa won 31-19
2007: New Zealand won 26-21
2002: New Zealand won 30-23
1998: South Africa won 24-23
1996: New Zealand won 23-19
1976: South Africa won 16-7
1949: South Africa won 9-3
1928: South Africa won 17-0

2016 Rugby Championship Results
New Zealand versus Argentina, 57-22
New Zealand versus Argentina, 36-17
New Zealand versus Australia, 42-8
New Zealand versus Australia, 29-9
New Zealand versus South Africa, 41-13
South Africa versus Argentina, 30-23
Argentina versus South Africa, 26-24
Australia versus South Africa, 23-17
South Africa versus Australia, 18-10

New Zealand have scored 205 points, South Africa 102.
New Zealand have scored 29 tries, South Africa 8.

Statistical review: The All Blacks have won eight of their last nine matches against South Africa. New Zealand's 28-point winning margin against South Africa earlier in this tournament was their joint-third biggest ever victory against the Springboks. Five of the six previous meetings between these sides at Kings Park have been decided by fewer than 10 points (three wins each). Morné Steyn scored 31 points (a try, a conversion and eight penalties) for the Springboks the last time these two teams clashed at this venue (2009), the most ever by a player against New Zealand. When these sides met earlier in the tournament, the All Blacks' starting backline tallied 18 defenders beaten between them, over twice as many as South Africa's corresponding players (seven). New Zealand have won their last 16 matches, victory here would extend that run to 17 and equal the record by a tier one nation (currently held by themselves and South Africa). The All Blacks have already scored 205 points and 29 tries in this tournament, both record tallies in a single Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations campaign. Three of the four players to make the most clean breaks in this year's edition of the competition are All Blacks (Julian Savea, 11; Ben Smith, 10; Israel Dagg, eight), the other being Argentina's Facundo Isa (eight). South Africa have enjoyed less possession than any other side this year, a total of just one hour, 10 minutes and 24 seconds over their five games so far (14 minutes, five seconds per game). No player has won more turnovers than Francois Louw in the 2016 Rugby
Championship (7, same as Michael Hooper and Agustin Creevy), more than twice as many as any New Zealand player (Sam Cane, Ardie Savea & Brodie Retallick have all won three each).

Prediction: It doesn't matter whether or not you take history, recent and remote, into consideration, you would be silly to suggest anything but an All Black victory. The extent of it is up to the mood of the day. We would suggest between 10 and 20 points. And yet, you know, rugby's a funny old game.

By Paul Dobson

* Statistics provided by Opta Sport

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