New Zealand’s World Cup winning coach Steve Hansen says the Springboks are paying for their Super Rugby absence as they head into the historic 100th Test against the All Blacks as underdogs.
“They’re probably not as fit as they have been and they’re probably not as used to the pace of the game that Australia and New Zealand particularly play at,” Hansen told Newstalk ZB.
Laurie Mains agrees with Hansen, saying: “South Africa playing against each other at home haven’t had the incentive to keep the speed of their game up and develop their players and get the current players they have up to that level.”
Former All Blacks coach Mains went on to tell Newstalk ZB, “South Africa are not the team we’ve known”.
Springboks’ performances attract criticism from all corners
Whilst the past two years have seen the Springboks win the World Cup, the Rugby Championship, become world number one ranked side and defeat the British and Irish Lions, they have not managed to escape criticism for their recent performances.
This feeling is shared around the rugby world with former England coach Clive Woodward providing a brutal assessment. “I looked on in horror last weekend at the sheer poverty and boredom from the South Africa team against Australia,” the World Cup winning coach wrote in the Daily Mail.
Many respected voices agree that the South African current style needs to change, and change quickly. Springboks hero Joel Stransky weighed in with his own frustrations this week.
“I feel deeply sorry for Handre Pollard and the backs. They just get the dregs. They don’t get any ball to play with, they just kick and chase. It’s a terrible game plan for them,” said the 22 Test veteran.
The need for change is also felt by those inside the Boks camp. Faf de Klerk himself commented that he feels that the team have lost their way in recent tests.
“We’ve strayed away from how we normally play. We played away from our DNA and that maybe put guys under pressure and that led to us forcing errors,” said the scrum half this week.
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber agrees that they made unforced errors against the Wallabies. “We pushed it a bit when their defence was set and a few times when there was kick space behind we got caught out by putting together too many carries,” commented Nienaber this week.
Still plenty of ways the Springboks can be a threat
Behind the stereotypical talk of a wounded Springbok being a dangerous beast, there are many who regard the Boks as a genuine threat with the talent and ability to win their 37th test match against the All Blacks.
Stransky believes that the key lies in the backs and wants to see them given much more opportunity. “If we are going to beat the All Blacks, we’ve got to use that outside backs. We’ve got great backs,” he said this week speaking with Gold AM.
All Black’s lock, Brodie Retallick, feels that the biggest threat is in the speed and power of the Springboks’ defence. “Where they’ve caught us out the last couple of times was when they did it was through their line speed defensively,” the New Zealand vice captain shared this week. “They’ve out-muscled us and we haven’t been able to break them down through our attack and then they punished us.”
The All Blacks coaching team are, unsurprisingly, on the same page as Retallick. Forwards coach John Plumtree echoed the threat the Springboks’ defence presents, saying “If you’re watching us play at the moment – high tempo, high skill level, that will all be under pressure because of the Boks’ line-speed”.
Ian Foster explained that the South Africans are “at their best when they play a pressure game against you, when they play a power game against you,” when he named his side for Saturday.
Foster expects the Boks to have “learnt a lot the last two weeks,” whilst Hansen feels that they won’t deviate too much from their kicking game. Hansen explained this week that “They’ve still got a great kicking game. You’ve still got to prevent that. And if you don’t catch the highball that they kick at you then you’re in trouble.”
“More power, more speed” key for the All Blacks
The All Blacks meanwhile have been focusing on further improvements as they look to build on their four convincing wins so far in the competition and earn their 60th victory over South Africa.
Hansen believes this current New Zealand side is playing some of the best rugby he’s seen. “They’ve been outstanding. The type of rugby that they’re playing has been a godsend to the game at the moment,” said Hansen from Japan this week where he’s working with Toyota Verblitz.
Retallick believes that at the heart of this exciting style has been an evolving philosophy that the team is embracing. “The freedom that the boys are playing with and using the ball and creating opportunities, it’s no doubt how we want to play our game,” said Retallick.
“From our point of view it’s what we do with the ball and we don’t want to be caught up in going set piece to set piece”.
Beauden Barrett, who will start at fly half for the All Blacks, also shared how important that concept of playing with freedom is to the team. “You have to embrace that challenge, what’s coming and the significance of this test match or any test match. But once you get on the field, you ultimately want to play with freedom,” Barrett said.
But no matter how much the All Blacks will want to attack, this game, like so many of the 99 before it, will still come down to the clash of two hugely physical forward packs.
When asked, Plumtree was very clear that his New Zealand pack were going to need to raise their standards if they wanted to win on Saturday. “For our forwards this is going to be the toughest battle since I’ve been involved. Everything we do has to have more power, more speed”.