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Expert Witness: Rugby Champs

19th August 2014 18:56

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Expert Witness Corne Krige Rugby Champs 2

All Blacks: Victims or pushing limits?

Former Springbok captain Corné Krige reviews the opening weekend of the Rugby Championship and looks ahead to Round Two.

Disappointment was the key word after Round One. Fans were left unsatisfied by a weekend that produced just one try as torrential rain in Sydney and Pretoria went a long way to ruining both spectacles.

New Zealand were disappointed to miss out on the world record, Australia let a golden opportunity for a long-awaited win over the Kiwis slip while the Springboks' hopes for the bonus point were washed away by the deluge of a Highveld thunderstorm. Even los Pumas were left with a bitter taste after coming so close to a draw.

"I feel sorry for New Zealand. The irony of Australia drawing with the All Blacks to halt their winning run on 17 games - for a second time - is almost tragic," said Krige.

"Don't underestimate how difficult it is to win 17 Test matches in a row. That was their chance to make history and they coughed it up.

"It was a Test match of lost opportunities. Both sides had chances to win it. Uncharacteristically, there were a lot of mistakes from two teams that rarely make errors. For example, Keven Mealamu had a terrible throw into a line-out when the All Blacks had the pressure on. Those small margins can win or lose Tests.

"If that record wasn't at stake, New Zealand would have been the happier of the two with the draw, considering the stats and how the game unfolded at the end. But with so much at stake, they'll probably be the more disappointed of the two."

Two yellow cards didn't help the New Zealanders' cause and referee Jaco Peyper has been the centre of controversy since the final whistle. The All Blacks have now seen yellow nine times in their last twelve Tests, leading to one prominent Kiwi scribe to suggest "they are victims of an unconscious refereeing conspiracy".

"I think that's a bit of sour grapes," commented Krige, a veteran of 39 Tests.

"They had the opportunity to win that game regardless of the cards, which I don't think made such a difference in the end.

"New Zealand have always been masters of playing on the limit of the laws and giving away cynical penalties - Richie McCaw has gotten away with it for years - and referees nowadays are a little stricter and are more prone to hand out yellow cards than they were in the past.

"I think it's just a natural progress of how the game has changed and I don't think they've adapted that well."

Looking at the statistics after the game, Australia will be wondering just how they managed to lose a game in which they enjoyed 66 percent of the possession and 67 percent of the territory.

"That's almost unheard of for Test match rugby, especially against New Zealand, who are so good at holding onto the ball," said Krige.

"What we've seen in the last six months or so is that the Australians are more physical than they've been in the past.

"They've got a few really physical guys in that team and they've got good tactical kickers. Tactically they've always been very good but they've finally got the physicality to compete in the tight exchanges.

"But with all that possession and all that territory, you really should win."

The All Blacks were forced to make 146 tackles compared to just 80 for the Wallabies. Four NZ players made 15 or more tackles with McCaw topping the list with 20.

"Some people have suggested that Richie is past it and is getting too old, but that just shows what a phenomenal player he still is," added the former Bok flank.

"His ability to read the game, get to the ball quickly and get into defensive positions in outstanding."

A draw means Australia must now win both the remaining Bledisloe Cup games to regain the trophy for the first time in 12 years, starting with this weekend's clash at Eden Park, where they've not won since 1984.

"I think it is feasible. If they get those kind of possession and territory stats again, they will win," predicted Krige

"They weren't bullied in the tight exchanges and they won't make that many mistakes again.

"On paper these teams are very closely matched and Australia have the game breakers that could turn it - you just need one try from Folau or a piece of brilliance from Ashley-Cooper and they can do it."

The weather meant that Kurtley Beale was not allowed to really show his playmaking skills last weekend but has been retained in the number ten jersey for the rematch, a decision Krige has his doubts about.

"Ewen McKenzie is obviously giving him another chance but Beale may have cost them the first game in the sense that they didn't go for goal when they could have if they had a very reliable goal kicker like Bernard Foley," said the former Stormer.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if they had gone for the safer option away from home and that guy can convert that territorial advantage into points."

Like in Sydney, the horrific conditions at Loftus Versfeld made exciting rugby nigh on impossible and the result was almost a lottery in a dire encounter.

"The one team in the world you don't want to play in the rain is Argentina," said Krige.

"They don't play much rugby at all, they're quite negative in their approach but they're very good at driving mauls, scrums and slowing the game down. It became a bit of a bun fight and, to be honest, South Africa should just be happy to get the win.

"Against a side that plays more attacking rugby and makes mistakes that you can capitalise on, the Boks would have done better, but considering the conditions, I wouldn't read too much into that game."

Heyneke Meyer's hopes for playing exciting rugby were washed away as last-minute gameplan changes were required.

"I wouldn't label Handrč Pollard a 'running fly-half.' He's a good tactical kicker and I think he should have adapted quicker on the day," noted Krige.

"But it's tough when you plan all week with an attacking mindset and then suddenly everything changes. So I can understand that they struggled. The SA public always wants them to win, and win well, but that's part of playing Springbok rugby - that expectation is always there, irrespective of the conditions."

South Africa were beaten at their own game of territorial occupation (Argentina had 53 percent of field position and possession).

"I think it is a concern for Meyer that the Boks couldn't adapt to the weather better. He's always picked big guys to suit his style and said he wants good tactical kickers at 9 and 10," said Krige, agreeing that it was a worrying sign looking ahead to potentially wet conditions at the World Cup.

"To be fair, they really missed Willem Alberts' ball carrying - even if Marcell Coetzee, a real workhorse, had a very good game.

"To get go-forward ball in those conditions is hugely important and Alberts runs very good lines, so he's hard to stop.

"Only Juan Smith can really stand in for Willem and play that role. I'd like to see him get a chance off the bench, to sink his teeth back into international rugby to see if he still has what it takes - he's been great for Toulon, but Test rugby is a step up."

There have been suggestions that Smith could be used as a lock, but Krige is not in favour of the idea.

"I don't think that's an answer. Taking a fantastic blindside flank and making him an average lock? I wouldn't want to see that happen."

Looking ahead to the coming weekend, Krige is expecting the Springboks to win comfortably.

"It would have been nice to see the teams swap and play different opposition," he noted.

"The Pumas had the best chance they'll get to snatch a draw but I never felt they were in a position to win it"They'll be very confident this coming weekend. A Pumas side with this kind of confidence is a dangerous beast, but South Africa couldn't have played much worse and the conditions can only be better. Meyer is meticulous about planning so they'll have their tactics right this time.

"Argentina have never beaten South Africa and I can't see it happening if the Boks play 20 percent better, which they can easily do.

"Australia have got a chance. They'll take massive confidence out of the first game, even if Eden Park is a very difficult place to win."

Corné Krige played 39 Tests for South Africa, including 18 as captain. Today he runs his own company called CK Outdoor, specialising in outdoor advertising. Follow Corné on his Facebook page.

Corné Krige spoke to Ross Hastie

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