The lack of attacking spark has been a theme for the Springboks in their first year under Heyneke Meyer, and on Saturday they come up against the masters of offensive play, the All Blacks, at one of their fortresses – Dunedin.
Interestingly, the Springboks and the All Blacks have both scored just five tries from three matches in the Rugby Championship thus far, but for South Africa, three of those came in the opening match against the debutants, Argentina, in the shadow of Table Mountain at Newlands.
The All Blacks are playing their last Test at home this year, and they are eager to produce the 100% performance that has eluded them thus far in 2012.
“We always aim for that perfect performance; it’s the last time that we are playing in New Zealand for a while, although I think wherever you play you want to improve on before. But certainly, seeing that it’s the last time we play, it would be nice to put a good one together before we head off,” New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said on the eve of the game.
“At times we have not been as accurate as we could be, but it won’t stop us from trying to play. One or two passes sometimes can make the difference. It is just a matter of getting the timing right to do that, and keep the guys creating those opportunities.”
The good news for the All Blacks – and very bad news for the Springboks – is that the venue for the Test, the Forsyth Barr Stadium, is enclosed under a roof and therefore the outside elements will play no part. There will be no swirling wind to make South Africa’s much-loved up-and-unders difficult to catch and there will be none of the wetness that helped Argentina in their mission of stopping the world champions from playing their favoured ball-in-hand game.
Coach Meyer has admitted that the conditions will be similar to a dry, windless winter’s day on the Highveld, and the All Blacks have regularly lit up Loftus Versfeld with their dazzling running play. South Africa tends to avoid playing New Zealand in Pretoria these days, which is not surprising when you consider the previous four results have been 45-26, 52-16, 34-18 and 33-26 in favour of the visitors to the Blue Bulls citadel.
Up-and-unders are not going to be the answer on Saturday against the thrilling All Blacks back three of Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Julian Savea. South Africa’s best hope is to really get up the noses of the All Blacks at the source, up front.
But the Springboks’ inexperienced pack will be up against McCaw, arguably the greatest rugby player ever, and the likes of Kieran Read, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock, who are up with the all-time greats.
They are bound to supply their backline with at least 50% possession and at least 50% of that will be front-foot ball, so New Zealand will create enough try-scoring opportunities for their lethal finishers.
The Springboks, on the other hand, are labouring with a flyhalf that stands too deep, an inside centre who has just played crash ball all year, an outside centre who looks out of place, and a fullback not known for his attacking prowess.
With 64% possession against the desperate Wallabies last weekend, the Springboks could still only score one try.
It is difficult to see what weapon the Springboks could possibly hurt the All Blacks with.
They will probably try to physically intimidate and rattle their hosts, but that approach has rarely borne fruit in New Zealand and has usually led to a yellow card and more gaps for the best users of space in the game.
After the All Blacks have absorbed the physical challenge, they will be able to play their game and that’s when it will become a rough night for the Springboks.
Like men overboard in turbulent seas, they’re going to have to cling on to every tackle in sight, claim every scrap of 50/50 ball that they are presented with and hope that the All Blacks believe that they are invincible and try and run the ball from everywhere, including positions that will just put them under pressure.
The Springboks have claimed just nine victories in New Zealand since 1921,and some great South African sides have fallen short in the Land of the Long White Cloud. There won’t be many expecting Meyer’s inexperienced and embattled team to secure a 10th win.