Resurgent Springboks Face Ultimate Litmus Test
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Following the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final between South Africa and New Zealand, there appears to be a hatchet between these two rugby nations that refuses to stay buried. Saturday’s clash promises to be a dish served ice-cold as the Boks look to avenge the 42-point slaughter dished out by their Kiwi counterparts in Durban just over a year ago. It was the stuff of nightmares.
The bookies have South Africa going down by 20 points after an initial projected loss of around 7 points earlier this week. Factors contributing to this shift are the omissions of flanker Jaco Kriel, tight head-prop Coenie Oosthuizen and incumbent halfback Ross Cronje to injury and illness. All three will be sorely missed, especially Oosthuizen’s outstanding scrumming and Kriel’s speedy pounces on any form of crash-ball. To counter this Coach Allister Coetzee has gone with an extra side of beef in the abrasive and uncompromising form of Jean-Luc du Preez at no 7. He has also included two lock-forwards on the bench in the ever impressive Pieter-Steph du Toit (who moonlights as a flanker) and former SA Player of the Year, Lood de Jager. These selections indicate that South Africa might revert to a 10-man game in an attempt to pin the All Blacks back and capitalize off mistakes through what will have to be relentless pressure and pinpoint kicking from the men in green and gold. Because let’s be honest – New Zealand doesn’t make too many mistakes and they are more than able to counter-attack effectively from anywhere on the park.
Bad news if you’re not a Kiwi.
Defence will be key for the Boks, especially on the fringes of the backline where they are rather lacking in size and an effective cover-defence will be tantamount to success. Against Argentina and Australia the Springboks fell short in this department and one has to ask the question; in the absence of Warren Whiteley, why the management team is persisting with a specialist blindside flanker at no 8? Uzair Cassiem has been rather pedestrian on attack and anonymous on defence so far, and with a devastatingly in-form no 8 at their disposal by name of Daniel du Preez (Jean-Luc’s twin brother) the Sharks duo would surely wreak just as much havoc in tandem for the Boks as they do for their Super Rugby team. It’s a no-brainer, really.
The All Blacks, in return, have selected a back-line packed with power and pace. The likes of Sonny Bill Williams and Reiko Ioane will no doubt be looking to impose their offload-games on their unsuspecting foes in order to keep the ball alive and send the McKenzies and Milner-Skudders off to dot the ball down behind the whitewash. Relative newcomers Kane Hames and Nepo Laulala have been entrusted with keeping their scrum in check and Hames might fancy his chances against Ruan Dreyer who hasn’t had a dream start to his Bok-career, conceding more than his fair share of scrum-penalties in not as many test matches.
New Zealand has been criticized by some for not having complete performances so far this year, however they remain consistent in achieving victory despite this.
If the Boks stand any chance of winning this gruelling encounter it will take no less than a gargantuan effort from every man in the group and the outcome will truly reflect their level of progress since the disaster that was 2016.