Boks zero in on Tri-Na­tions

All Blacks and Wal­la­bies look to re­turnees for a change in for­tune

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

KEY per­son­nel changes, cou­pled with a chance to re­flect, should see New Zealand and Aus­tralia both wise up and toughen up for the re­main­ing part of the Tri-Na­tions, but it is go­ing to re­quire an un­likely brain ex­plo­sion for the Spring­boks to fail in their quest for the ti­tle.

Hos­til­i­ties re­sume af­ter this bye week­end when the Wal­la­bies and All Blacks clash in Syd­ney next Satur­day.

All Black coach Gra­ham Henry has been coy this week about Dan Carter’s chances of play­ing, but the world’s best fly­half has played three come­back matches now fol­low­ing his re­turn from a long in­jury lay-off.

Ac­cord­ing to most re­ports, he was head­ing back to his best form in the last match he played, for Can­ter­bury against Auck­land, so the smart money should be ei­ther on Carter wear­ing the No 10 jer­sey next week, or fit­ting in along­side Stephen Don­ald as the in­side cen­tre.

No-one in the All Black camp has sug­gested this lat­ter op­tion, but back­line coach Wayne Smith did men­tion when in South Africa that the All Black man­age­ment were im­pressed with the Don­ald/Carter fly­half/in­side cen­tre con­fig­u­ra­tion when they tried it in the last 20 min­utes of a match against Aus­tralia last year.

For all his force­ful­ness and abil­ity to dom­i­nate the gain­line, Ma’a Nonu lacks the sub­tleties of the type of in­side cen­tre that New Zealand have tended to have in po­si­tion dur­ing their more suc­cess­ful runs.

For that, read Aaron Mauger, who started out as a fly­half but was forced to morph into a No 12 at the Cru­saders be­cause of the pres­ence of first An­drew Mehrtens and then Carter.

Hav­ing Carter and Don­ald play­ing to­gether would of course help iron out one of the two big weak­nesses of an All Black team that was rated by many as eas­ily the worst to visit South Africa in the post-iso­la­tion era. They had no kick­ing game to speak of, and it con­trib­uted to the sui­ci­dal rugby they played.

If the re­turn of Carter, re­gard­less of where he plays, could help New Zealand in the ter­ri­tory bat­tle – he won the Tri-Na­tions for them last year – the other weak­ness is less easy to pa­per over.

For as much as Carter has been missed, so has Ali Wil­liams (in­jured), Carl Hay­man (play­ing over­seas) and Jerry Collins (re­tired last year).

The pre-tour­na­ment pre­dic­tions were that the All Blacks might find they lacked grunt up front, and those pre­dic­tions proved hor­ri­bly ac­cu­rate for the Ki­wis, who were smashed in the phys­i­cal bat­tle by the Spring­boks.

And it doesn’t help that af­ter five years they ap­pear no closer to solv­ing he rid­dle of the Bok li­ne­out.

So while New Zealand’s chances of re­tain­ing the Tri-Na­tions ti­tle should not be writ­ten off as they have two home games to look for­ward to af­ter Syd­ney, it is hard to see how they can turn around the for­ward dom­i­nance the Boks en­joyed in Bloem­fontein and Dur­ban.

Aus­tralia have lost Stir­ling Mort­lock, who will be missed for both his lead­er­ship and the thrust he brings to the backs from his po­si­tion at out­side cen­tre.

Where the Wal­la­bies should be bet­ter though is at for­ward now that they are set to re­call the mon­grel of Rocky El­som. The blind­side flanker was ruled out by in­jury from the first two matches but he is set to re­turn in Syd­ney. The Wal­la­bies will hope he can make good their short­fall in phys­i­cal­ity, which is some­thing they al­ways talk a lot about but sel­dom de­liver.

The Wal­la­bies could still be more danger­ous to the Bok ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions than the All Blacks, for they showed glimpses in Cape Town of be­ing able to blunt the Bok strengths.

And you can as­sume they would have learned some­thing from the suc­cess they achieved with their strict em­pha­sis on a ter­ri­tory game in the early stages of the sec­ond half in or­der to sur­vive the pe­riod that they were play­ing 13 men against 15.

It was sim­ple stuff from the Wal­la­bies, just kick­ing the ball into the cor­ners, but it worked won­ders as it kept the Boks score­less dur­ing a pe­riod when they should have been dom­i­nat­ing.

From a South African view­point it should be hoped that those 10 min­utes pro­vided a timely re­minder of the folly of re­vert­ing to the script that sunk them in this com­pe­ti­tion 12 months ago. Af­ter play­ing with great struc­ture and con­trol and a big em­pha­sis on ter­ri­tory for most of the first half, the Boks be­came too fre­netic when they saw the Wal­la­bies had been re­duced to 13 men.

In­stead of main­tain­ing con­trol, they tried to run from ev­ery­where, and it was as though they had stepped into a time ma­chine and been trans­ported back to last year.

It was in­ter­est­ing to see that Heyneke Meyer, who as for­mer coach of the Bulls is as much the ar­chi­tect of the cur­rent Bok way of play­ing as Jake White, crit­i­cised the Boks for los­ing con­trol and struc­ture in that pe­riod. In his view the Boks would have put the Aussies away had they re­tained their struc­ture, and he is prob­a­bly right.

Not that Bok leader John Smit needs to be told this, and the wis­dom of Smit re­mains the sin­gle big­gest rea­son why we should ex­pect the Boks to do more than just the nec­es­sary on the over­seas leg.

White is right when he says they should be do­ing more with the ball when in the right field po­si­tions, but the pu­n­ish­ment en­dured by both the All Blacks and Aussies in terms of South African penalty kicks over the past fort­night tells us ev­ery­thing we need to know about the folly of try­ing to play in your own half.

The All Blacks did score a 95-me­tre try off a quick throw-in in Dur­ban, but they gave away far more points through their pol­icy of run­ning from ev­ery­where than they scored.

Apart from the Jaque Fourie try in Bloem­fontein which came off a turnover cour­tesy of a Kiwi mis­take when chas­ing the game, the tries in this year’s com­pe­ti­tion have con­formed to the stats from the Su­per 14, which told us that just 6% of them came off moves that orig­i­nated in the scor­ing team’s half.

The Boks are too ex­pe­ri­enced now and too clever to ig­nore those stats, and they also have the most gifted trio of field kick­ers in the com­pe­ti­tion, which is why space needs to be made now at the SA Rugby head­quar­ters for the Tri-Na­tions tro­phy which is headed this way next month.


BALL-WISE: Daniel Carter could be called on to rem­edy the All Blacks’ kick­ing woes.


BALL-BE­SERK: Rocky El­som’s role will be to put the ‘mon­grel’ back in the Wal­la­bies’ pack.

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