A pre­lim be­fore ma­tric for the Boks

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT -

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. ●

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