2018 Rugby Championships

South Africa vs New Zealand

Saturday, October 6

Venue: Loftus Versveld Stadium, Pretoria.

Kick-off: 17:05 SA Time, 16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)

Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Matthew Carley (England)

Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

The past two weeks have been a fascinating time for anyone who follows rugby, especially New Zealand rugby. The All Blacks’ loss to the Springboks on September 15 in Wellington triggered something of a mini-earthquake in New Zealand. The country, more especially the rugby media, reacted with something akin to shock. None but one or two denied that the Springboks deserved the win, but many questioned how the mighty All Blacks had allowed it to happen. It seemed that the very foundations of the country had been rocked slightly. The All Blacks were not supposed to lose at home, and especially not to the young, inexperienced, and rebuilding Springboks.

I have had a lot of fun watching and reading the New Zealand reaction in their media, especially this week as they have vociferously called for, and often threatened, revenge and retribution.

Here are some headlines and quotes from New Zealand:

We won’t make the same mistakes, Ryan Crotty promises as ABs seek revenge in Pretoria. (Stuff)

All Blacks’ No 1 ranking will virtually disappear with second Springboks loss. (Stuff)

Rugby: All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty – We’ve learned from Wellington loss to South Africa (NZ Herald)

Rugby: Springboks wary of All Blacks first-five Beauden Barrett bouncing back in Pretoria (NZ Herald)

Rugby: All Blacks are about to show Springboks what pressure really looks like (NZ Herald)

Springboks sweat on how to deal with All Blacks’ scrum and maul (NZ Herald)

Rugby: Stung All Blacks focus on righting wrong against Springboks (NZ Herald)

We Owe Them One…. (RugbyPass)

Crotty says ‘we let them back in’ as All Blacks prepare to put things right (RugbyPass)

Rugby Championship: Ryan Crotty goes all in on All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor (NewsHub.co.nz)

“He has taken on a leadership role – driving the team defensively. Codie is a very intelligent hooker and I’d take him over Malcolm Marx any day of the week.” Ryan Crotty (NewsHub.co.nz)

Rugby Championship: ‘The All Blacks live in a constant place of pressure to win’ – Steve Hansen (Rugby365)

All Blacks: TJ Perenara not distracted by 50th test, championship win “We’ve finished that game now, but my mind’s not thinking about my 50th game – it’s thinking about Pretoria and trying to right a wrong from a couple of weeks ago.” (Rugby365)

ALL BLACKS GIFTED BOKS VICTORY SAYS CROTTY (Rugby365)

HANSEN: NOW YOU’RE STARTING TO WRITE US OFF (Rugby365)

All Blacks looking to ‘right a wrong’ against Springboks, says TJ Perenara (ESPN)

So many headlines, and all seem to focus on just that one thing, the All Blacks are heading to Pretoria to gain some revenge over the Springboks!

Which adds some spice to the encounter at a jam-packed Loftus Versveld.

Whilst the All Blacks, and their ever-willing media, have been talking about revenge and retribution, the Springboks have been fairly quiet about their own prospects and preparations.

We have heard about the hard work Handré Pollard put in to fix his goal-kicking yips. We have heard how the Springboks are under no illusions about the task facing them in Pretoria. We have been told that the Springboks will need to make some “smart selections.” We have heard that the players have put the win in Wellington in the past and are focused on the job at hand.

What we have not heard is about how the Springboks are going to win the game and “teach” the All Blacks something or another.

On the one side, we have anger, confusion too, and some less than veiled threats, on the other we have a reticence to say anything.

Which all adds to the spice in this game!

We can have no doubt that the All Blacks will launch a massive effort to regain the bragging rights that they habitually own.

We can also have no doubt that this young Springbok outfit will play with grit and determination. They will also have a certain amount of confidence. No matter what anyone says or does, no matter the threats and promises, no matter the awesome record and wonderfully talented squad, the Springboks know that they can beat the All Blacks.

Will they do it again? Only time will tell, but I will suggest that they will not make it easy for the visitors from New Zealand.

Match-Day 23s

South Africa

Damian de Allende, Francois Louw and Steven Kitshoff are back in South Africa’s side for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash with New Zealand.

De Allende has shrugged off the shoulder injury that forced him to miss last weekend’s win over the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth and takes over the 12 jersey from Andre Esterhuizen.

Louw is back in the frame having returned from club commitments with Bath and will start at number eight, while Sikhumbuzo Notshe will play off the bench.

Kitshoff is part of the starting loosehead front-row with the experienced Tendai Mtawarira, providing impact off the bench.

Vincent Koch gets a chance to play an impact role after he was named amongst the replacement forwards, ahead of Wilco Louw.

The rest of the team that beat Australia last weekend was kept unchanged, with Willie le Roux set to play in his 50th Test for South Africa.

New Zealand

Steve Hansen has made four changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test with South Africa in Pretoria.

There are two changes to the pack, with 102-Test prop Owen Franks back at tighthead prop and regular captain Kieran Read returning at number eight. This means Ofa Tuungafasi and Ardie Savea move to the replacements bench.

Amongst the backs, Aaron Smith returns to the starting scrum-half spot with TJ Perenara back on the bench, while Jack Goodhue has been named at outside centre for his sixth Test, with Ryan Crotty to provide impact off the bench in the number 23 jersey.

Thoughts

Back on the 25th July 1970, in the days before television arrived in South Africa, Joggie Jansen tackled Wayne Cottrell on the midwinter dry grass of Loftus Versveld, a massive tackle that reverberated through the rugby world and is still frequently viewed on social media video channels by those that remember the day when Brian Lochore’s mighty All Blacks lost to South Africa by 17 – 6.

The Springboks went on to win that 1970 Test series 3-1, losing the second Test at Newlands by 9 to 8, a Test that saw the famous Syd Nomis/Fergie McCormick incident, and then winning the final two Tests in Port Elizabeth (14-3) and Johannesburg (20-17)

That was the last time the Springboks won a Test against the All Blacks at Loftus Versveld.

In all the two teams have clashed 5 times at Loftus, with the All Blacks victorious on the other four occasions.

This history lesson is provided simply to illustrate two things. Firstly, do not be deluded into thinking that the altitude in Pretoria is some secret weapon for the Springboks.

It is not.

Ten of the Springboks who will start this Test play their club rugby down at sea level, as do four of the reserves. The altitude factor is not nearly as important for the Springboks as it is for those teams that usually live and play up high!

The second thing I wish to illustrate by referring back to that 1970 Test is the impact of the tackle that Joggie Jansen made on Wayne Cottrell. Joggie was a big man for a midfielder, and he was renowned for really massive tackles. (I know, he once absolutely flattened me!) The tackle on Cottrell was huge, and it ended Cottrell’s tour, removing the All Blacks’ chief playmaker from the Test and the series.

That was not, however, the biggest influence the tackle had on that series. What that Jansen tackle did was to send a message to the rest of the Springboks and to their supporters that the Springboks were up for the challenge of taking on, and beating, the All Blacks.

And that is exactly the same message the current Springbok team sent out to world on the 15th September 2018.

They are up to the challenge of taking on, and even beating this World Champion All Black team. And they sent that message by producing a superhuman performance of tackling and tackling, and tackling again.

They also sent a message to the All Blacks that they could, and would, take their chances when they came around, scoring 5 tries in the process.

Of course, this All Black team is a mightily proud bunch of rugby players. They are the best team in the world, and rightly so! They have an awesome record and a wonderful history. They are the most successful international sporting team in all of history, across all sports.

The All Blacks are not only blessed with some of the finest rugby players in the world, they also boast some of the best rugby brains in their team and, more especially, amongst their coaching staff. They will have gone away from Wellington and studied the video recordings of that Test over and over again. They will have worked out where they went wrong, they will have identified and analysed what the Springboks did right, and where the Springboks had focussed their attention. In doing so they will have spent time trying to find weaknesses in the Springbok game plan, moments and half-chances that can be exploited if they occur again.

They will have spent a lot of time working out how to beat the new Springbok approach, and they will have practiced those moves and tactics in the three weeks since the loss at Wellington.

Have no doubt that the Springboks will also have gone away and studied those video recordings, and they will have tried to identify their own weaknesses and strengths too. They will also have had a good long look at the All Black game plan, again and again.

It was superb tactical planning and execution by Rassie Erasmus and his Springboks that won the game in New Zealand. We have spoken about the way they set their defences and how they eschewed the direct contact over the ball in favour of shifting focus onto the ball recipient after the breakdown and shutting down the space and time available to the All Black playmakers.

Quite simply, Rassie Erasmus outthought Steve Hansen in Wellington.

Will this happen again in Pretoria?

What we do know is that this is likely to be another massive physical contest between two sides that respect each other both on and off the field.

Out on the playing field of Loftus Versveld, this game will be about man against man, and team against team. Those media warriors who have threatened all kinds of retribution and spoke of revenge will not be out there. The coaches will be in their boxes, and the fans will be glued to their seats and television sets.

For those out on the field of play, I will again suggest that this game will be won or lost in the minds of the payers long before it is lost through their actions on the field.

The challenges will be massive.

The All Black forward pack looked awesomely powerful last weekend as they simply swept the Argentinean challenge off the grass. The scrums were as solid as it comes, their lineouts worked like clockwork, and their power over the ball on the ground was immense.

If the Springboks want to win this game, they will have to match the All Black pack in every single aspect of play, both in the set-pieces and in broken play. They did that in Wellington, will they do it again in Pretoria?

The All Black back division is the most potent striking force in all of rugby. They have some of the finest finishers in the world out wide, with Naholo and Ioane try-scoring machines. They have the sublime skills of Sonny Bill Williams next to the rapidly rising Jack Goodhue in the midfield. They have the best fullback in the world in Ben Smith. And then they have the man many rate as the best all-round rugby player in the world at flyhalf, Beauden Barrett.

Barrett can change the flow and focus of a game in an instant, with his sublime skills and eye for the smallest chance coupled to blinding pace and opportunism.

He has the best scrumhalf in the world, Aaron Smith, feeding him the ball.

And if any of these guys misfire, there is a bench laden with similarly superb talent. When Ryan Crotty starts off the bench, the guys ahead of him must be of stellar quality, when there is no room for Damian McKenzie, then Richie Mo’unga must be something really special, and we all know how good TJ Perenara is!

Last time out the Springboks negated the challenge of the All Black back division by shutting them down as quickly as possible. They employed the rush defence tactic beautifully, denying the All Black playmakers the time and space to make their moves, and coupled it to a spread defence system that denied the All Blacks the wider spaces they like to exploit if given the chance.

If they want to win in Pretoria, the Springboks will need to repeat this performance, and more! They can be sure that the All Blacks will be thinking of a more aerial game, using the high ball to push the Springbok wide defenders back and into pressurised ball receipts. The visitors will be looking for the chips and grubbers that negate the rush defence. They will probably be looking at carrying the ball up the middle through some of their big forwards as a method for tying in some of those Springbok fringe defenders.

The Springboks will need to up their defensive game to counter any tactical changes the All Blacks are likely to make. They will need to cover the spaces behind the rush defence line, they will need to support those wide channel defenders, especially under the high ball. Critically, they cannot afford to give the All Black wingers the space they like out wide.

The contest over the ball on the ground will be interesting to watch. In Wellington, and a week ago in Port Elizabeth, the Springboks opted to stay out of the contest in the midfield areas of the field, happily handing the ball to their opposition so that they could focus on defending the spaces next to the breakdown. It was effective, but it may not work every time they play. A team such as the All Blacks will be looking to take the ball through the middle of the ruck rather than out to the fringes or wider, as a counter to the Springbok tactic. This might require the Springboks to change their plan and their focus somewhat. Their defensive system may have worked a treat in the previous two games, but it might be used against them this time around!

But rugby Tests are not all about defence!

A week ago the Springboks beat Australia. It was a comfortable win, yet it was far closer than it could and should have been. We identified no less than 8 clear scoring opportunities that went abegging as the Springboks failed to convert the moment into points. They cannot, they dare not, let such opportunities go to waste against the All Blacks.

If they want to win, the Springboks are going to have to add a crisp, clinical edge to their game. They have to do more than create opportunities, they have to score the points too!

Once again, they know they can. They put 5 tries past the All Blacks three weeks ago. That takes some doing! But they cannot afford the lapses that prevented them for scoring more against the Wallabies last week.

Whatever the outcome, this is likely to be a hugely entertaining game of rugby. Tests between South Africa and New Zealand usually are amongst the best entertainment you could want.

It will be massive, it will be physical, it will be intense, and it will be hard and uncompromising too.

You should not miss it!

Prediction

It would require a very brave man to make some emphatic prediction about this game!

Whilst the Springboks will enjoy home-ground advantage and a hugely partisan crowd, they are still a very young, inexperienced outfit that are learning their way at this level of the game of rugby. They have shown real grit and enormous mongrel this season and especially in their last two Tests, but they have also produced some very iffy games too, the two losses against Argentina and Australia are prime examples.

Consistency remains a goal for the 2018 Springboks, whilst they are facing one of the most consistent sides the world has ever seen.

The real question that must be answered before one can venture a prediction is whether this Springbok outfit can step up yet another gear on Saturday. We know the All Blacks can, and will.

If the All Blacks get their game going early on, and build a head of steam based in their effervescent confidence, they will be very difficult to beat.

Whilst many would suggest that a second win over the All Blacks might just be a bridge too far for this rookie Springbok outfit, I am, very very cautiously, calling this as a win for the Springboks.

The Springboks, by 3 points.

Teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Ryan Crotty