A prelim before matric for the Boks
IT WASN’T exactly like kissing your sister but as Morne du Plessis once famously said, a draw in rugby is not very exciting.
We should’ve won but could’ve lost. We showed fight but also made many mistakes, as did the Aussies. However, after last season’s abominations, I think we’ll take a draw in Perth as a positive and move on.
The problem is that we now have to move on to North Harbour and a game against one of the greatest teams of all time. In fact, the All Blacks have moved up from that accolade. In addition to the best 15 or 23 they can put on the field, they have developed the most amazing conveyor belt of talent straining to get a chance.
They are now a veritable college of excellence, not just a team. As such, no regular player can ever rest on his laurels. Any break for injury, personal issue, discipline aberration or form loss puts a player back down the ladder a few rungs.
Jerome Kaino was perhaps among the first three names on the team sheet of late. Now he has to work his way back again. Julian Savea is another. A tough school indeed. Perhaps only their great side of 1966/67 can compare with this All Blacks outfit. For this comparison, the team today deserve massive praise. Check Google.
Let’s be honest. On paper we don’t stand a chance of winning today. Even if we get off to a flier, as did the Aussies in that second Test, can we really stay ahead for 80 minutes? Regardless of when the bench is emptied and the influence of the fresh players felt, can we live with them for the last 15 minutes? I doubt it. Thus, although important, the result today is almost irrelevant.
We must learn from the recent British & Irish Lions’ tilt at the same opposition, even if the challenge is slightly different. They had just over a month to acclimatise and get up to New Zealand speed and fitness. They did it by agreeing to an insane schedule and by not really worrying about early results. They ticked boxes rapidly and came away with a series result that, even in hindsight, is extraordinary. They shared a series, albeit with good fortune, in New Zealand with this All Blacks side.
We have two years to get it right and each Test tilt at them is like a lesson in preparation for the next World Cup. Each Test is a warm-up game until then.
We started the season well with a stock take. Remember the Kiwis did the same after losing the World Cup yet again in 2007. They realised that more skill and fitness was needed and central contracts were key to achieving this. The rest is history.
We then made sensible changes, preparation was better, and the coach was able to select the assistants he wanted. We had the right captain, finally. We were told of a new attitude and this is plain to see in the Springbok set-up, on and off the pitch.
A series win over the French has been followed by two goodish wins against the Pumas and then that result last week. But today is like a prelim before matric. It is not the real thing but a chance to judge where we are against the best. Matric is the next World Cup. That, and that alone, is the real thing.
Up front we should be fine in the tight, at least for the first hour or so, but we seem inconsistent in our scrums.
I worry about our positional kicking, especially with Damian McKenzie in town. Some are concerned at his lack of size but I feel that with more games, he will blossom into another Christian Cullen.
Ryan Crotty is back for the All Blacks and that scares me. He is the cleverest midfield player in the world.
Our back row is fast and talented but breakdowns are now the responsibility of all players. As the game opens, can we really expect our XV to match theirs for 80 minutes? I doubt it.
In attack we have not really cut loose in the way I expected. The Joburg Lions play with such pace and confidence in attack that they trouble even the best Kiwi sides. Despite the presence of key players from Joburg, we have never quite translocated the Lions’ swagger in attack into the green jerseys. Why is this? Is it conservatism from the coach? Is it the injury to Warren Whiteley? Is it a lack of understanding from the Bull centres? I don’t know. It just concerns me that Courtnall Skosan has had hardly a run in space with the ball in his hands. That is why he is there, guys.
So what do we look for today? Obviously a commitment bordering on supernatural. Without that, nobody will beat the All Blacks. We need to see our defensive system look more and more comfortable with every outing. Even under extreme pressure, the champions look organised.
Various other boxes must be ticked, as usual, but for today let’s at least see more chances created via expansive play. At some stage in a World Cup we will need that as we chase a game. We need to see evidence that progress is being made. I’ll settle for that.
One other thing is certain. In the next two years we need to improve fitness. It is a tough call as some strong, physical players might find that impossible. But to beat the All Blacks, a side has to match them for 80, not even 70 minutes. This might be beyond us at this stage, but in two years it must be achieved. We need strength and fitness in all players. Malcolm Marx is the type we will need across the board.
I’d love a win today but will settle for 65 minutes of us matching them in every facet and beating them in some. That would be progress regardless of what happens after that. Two years of regular progress will then see us competitive. ●