It’s not a foregone conclusion that the All Blacks will beat the Springboks this weekend in Durban, with the win over Australia last weekend showing that there are strengths the home side can use against New Zealand.
If you look at the team Allister Coetzee selected, it was specifically chosen to stop the opposition on the gain-line and kick their goals, and they did that. They gathered points through their set-piece and winning breakdowns at crucial times. They were far more aggressive at the breakdown and they were rewarded for it.
So the Springboks have their pride back going into the game against the All Blacks and I’m certain that they will have the mindset that they can beat the world champions. If they make a good start, if they play territory, use their set-pieces and defend well, then they have a chance.
They need to kick behind the New Zealand wings like Argentina did in the second half of their match last weekend. The Pumas managed to put them under pressure, they made them look average and won the second half.
But the All Blacks were pretty special for 20 minutes before halftime, when they turned up the pace and took their opportunities, which is always the danger with them.
It was a concern how easily Australia were able to get into South Africa’s 22, but from then on you’re up against a full line of defence, all 15 players, and it comes down to playing off nine and collision rugby. But the Springboks really defended well, they scrambled well, it’s not ideal but they still only conceded one try.
They ended up with Jaco Kriel on the wing, but they gutsed it out and got the win. When you’re playing people out of position and really scrambling, you could be in trouble, but the Springboks won some crucial turnovers.
There were many try-saving tackles and some very important steals, notably two by Adriaan Strauss. You can’t really compete at the breakdown if the other team has momentum because it’s hard then to get over the ball, but I thought Francois Louw and Strauss were immense at the breakdown against the Wallabies, and when Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel came on, they used choke-tackles to turn over possession as well.
One also has to credit the Springbok scrummage for winning crucial penalties. They applied pressure at the set-piece and scored points through that.
They will not score a lot of tries as the backline is set up to chase kicks and long kicks at that.
The first thing I noticed when I came back from SuperRugby into international rugby in 2012, having worked with the Springboks back in 1999 and 2002, was that all the players are so much quicker and more powerful at that level, it really is a different game.
But the Springboks now have a backline that has been chosen to defend well, chase kicks and obviously it’s evasive having Hougaard and De Jongh, and the only real speedsters are Jesse Kriel and Habana. But Allister’s plan is obviously to have the best defenders in place and to play for territory and field position with Morne Steyn, Pat Lambie and whoever plays at nine.
Territory was still a problem though, but that’s because Australia keep the ball so well. They would attack from anywhere, even at the end when a kick downtown behind Jaco Kriel would probably have been better, they were still running from deep. They were trying to tire out the Springbok forwards, but it’s a credit to the home side that they didn’t ever slacken off.
But you don’t look back at the style or manner in which a team won, the record books will just show that it was a win.
There’s obviously a great amount of difference between playing at altitude on the Highveld and playing down on the coast in Durban. The last time the Springboks played the All Blacks at sea level at home was in 2011 when we won 18-5 in Port Elizabeth. New Zealand made many line-breaks that day but just didn’t finish, the Springboks just scrambled and kept them out, and then Morne Steyn kicked very well.
They need to do the same this weekend – kick well, use their scrum to put the All Blacks under pressure, and it’s really key that the second half and the lineouts still function well. The Springboks can’t go into the game with a defensive mindset, and in the last 20 minutes they need the bench to come on and make a difference. If it’s wet this weekend, that will also be a great leveller.
In all three of our recent close games on the Highveld the Springboks have led going into the second half.
In 2013 the Boks needed a bonus point to win the Rugby Championship, so we had to play. From a turnover, New Zealand scored just before halftime and then we had key injuries at forward. In 2014 the Springboks beat them 27-25 at Ellis Park and last year it took a moment of Dane Coles magic for the All Blacks to win, again there was a crucial turnover just before halftime. So the margins are small and the gulf is not as big as many believe.
The All Blacks are beatable at sea level and both the Highlanders, Hurricanes and Crusaders, the top three New Zealand sides, were well-beaten by South African teams in SuperRugby. So the Springboks need to go into the match with a positive mindset and play the game they want to play.
But the Springboks have scored very few tries in the Rugby Championship and had few line-breaks. They’ve constructed just one try in their last three games, the others have come from turnovers and interceptions, but it’s obviously how Allister has decided they can win games.
In the Test in 2014 against the All Blacks, which the Springboks won, Handre Pollard scored two tries by playing very flat. You really need the flyhalf to challenge the gain-line more if you’re going to score tries, but Allister has decided he wants the comfort of Morne Steyn’s excellent goalkicking and drop goals and a strong set-piece to win this game. We would all love to celebrate a Springbok victory on Saturday.
John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012-15, having won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.