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Preview: New Zealand v South Africa

14th September 2012 08:54

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South Africa New Zealand aug 2011

Morne Steyn: The man for the job?

It's supposed to be the greatest rivalry in rugby, but very few pundits are backing the Springboks to beat the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday.

Most expect the hosts to show Heyneke Meyer and co. why 'total rugby', when executed correctly, will always be superior to the one-dimensional style to which the Boks insist on confining themselves.

The Springboks' stubbornness in sticking to what they believe is a tried-and-tested formula - and by extension their selection policy - has been the greeted by widespread frustration not only in the Republic, but around the world as fans beg to see the Boks use some of the attacking talents at their disposal.

Earlier this week we ran a poll asking who you would pick at 10 and 15 for the Boks. Of the eight options provided, Meyer's preferred combination ranked... a distant seventh.

Less than four per cent of the fans who voted reckon that Morne Steyn and Zane Kirchner are the right men for the job. Overwhelmingly our readers feel that either Johan Goosen or Pat Lambie, or a combination of the two, should be South Africa's playmakers.

It's easy to criticise Steyn's lack of invention, but he is only doing what he is told. And to be fair to Meyer, if South Africa are going to persist with employing their current tactic (and I use the singular form intentionally, because it's abundantly clear there is no 'plan B') then Steyn IS the best choice.

And judging by some comments from the Bulls fly-half this week, the Boks have no intention of changing the approach that brought them their last Tri-Nations title back in 2009.

"We've won a Tri-Nations with the same game-plan and in 2007 we won the World Cup with these tactics. We have to stay with this strategy," he said.

Eh?

So, it worked against equally one-dimensional Argentina and England at a World Cup five years ago so it can't be wrong?

True, the hit-'em-hard-and-kick-it-high approach bore fruit in 2009 when Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu, who were hopelessly out of form at the time, were found wanting under the high ball. But to simply expect the current crop of Kiwis to wilt under pressure in the same fashion is more than naive, it's just plain foolish.

Every defensive coach in world rugby has seen it all before and has had years and years to come up with the necessary solutions.

But the more we shout, the more the siege mentality in the Bok camp is entrenched. Meyer says he doesn't care that his team have been written off, that he's used to being criticised and has instead highlighted the fact that he is leading an inexperienced team in country where the Boks have not enjoyed much success.

Sure, you can't replace the players he's lost overnight, but surely that is all the more reason to build a new strategy around the next generation of talents at his disposal?

The furore over the Boks living in denial has gone a long way to overshadow the fact that the All Blacks were given an almighty scare by Argentina last week.

As much as that result is a reflection of just how good the Pumas are, if truth be told, the Kiwis weren't at their best and their error count was uncharacteristically high. Some calm heads from experienced players saw them home though as their approach to the game ultimately proved the same point we expect again this weekend: If you keep moving the ball, gaps will eventually open up. Compare that to the Boks' inability to put the Pumas away in both Cape Town and Mendoza.

While this will be South Africa's first visit to Forsyth Barr Stadium, the Springboks' last visit to the deep south and the now defunct 'House of Pain' (Carisbrook) in 2008 resulted in victory. But don't read too much into that, the Boks have won just three times in New Zealand in the professional era.

Some pundits have suggested that this game might be a crossroads for South Africa, arguing that if they get hammered, they'll be forced to rethink their strategy.

But there are too many class players in the visitors' side for this to turn into a massacre. If South Africa come anywhere near winning, the coaching staff will see it as vindication of their outdated thinking and we'll be back to square one. In that case, the real losers will be everyone who wants to see exciting rugby.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: Officially, Piri Weepu has been handed back the number nine shirt because Aaron Smith was a naughty boy and staying out too late but it would not have been a huge surprise if the World Cup winner had been bumped up from the bench anyway. After a poor Super Rugby season, Mr Fixit has looked much better in a Black jersey (not least because he has lost 10kg) and was a steadying influence when the Kiwis needed calm heads in Wellington. With the hosts looking to play at a high tempo on a dry track, Weepu will be keen to show he can keep up with the pace and regain a regular starting berth. Axed from the team last week for simply not being good enough, Sam Whitelock returns with a point to prove - South Africa's line-out will provide a real test of his skills.

For South Africa: With a grand total of one Premiership game for Bath and 23 minutes against Australia under his belt, Francois Louw has been brought into the Bok starting XV with the specific task of beating Richie McCaw on the ground. No pressure, then. Whilst Flo's inclusion has been welcomed by many as a step in the right direction, the fact that it comes at the expense of Marcell Coetzee - South Africa's best player this year and their only forward with any pace - has only heaped even more pressure onto Louw's shoulders. How many Test tries would Bryan Habana have scored if he had been born in New Zealand? Despite being starved of opportunities to gallop in space, he always finds a way to get involved.

Head-to-head: Incredibly, there are just three players in the All Blacks starting team this weekend that were also in the run-on side when they last played the Springboks in Port Elizabeth last August. One of them, Israel Dagg, must be licking his lips at the prospect of being kicked at by Zane Kirchner. If the SA back three get it even slightly wrong, they'll be punished. The equation is simple: give Dagg, Jane and Savea ammunition and you'll get shot.

Previous results:

2011: South Africa won 18-5 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
2011: New Zealand won 40-7 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
2010: New Zealand won 29-22 at FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
2010: New Zealand won 31-17 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
2010: New Zealand won 32-12 at Eden Park, Auckland
2009: South Africa won 32-29 at Rugby Park, Hamilton
2009: South Africa won 31-19 at Absa Stadium, Durban
2009: South Africa won 28-19 at Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
2008: New Zealand won 19-0 at Newlands
2008: South Africa won 30-28 at Carisbrook, Dunedin
2008: New Zealand won 19-8 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
2007: New Zealand won 33-6 at Jade Stadium, Christchurch
2007: New Zealand won 26-21 at Absa Stadium, Durban
2006: South Africa won 21-20 at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
2006: New Zealand won 45-26 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Prediction: I honestly hope the Boks prove me wrong and provide us with a spectacle worth watching. But on current form, I can only see a home victory. Heyneke Meyer's walkie-talkie to take a beating and New Zealand to win by 14 points.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements:16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Tamati Ellison.

South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Pat Lambie.

Date: Saturday, September 15
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:35 (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT, 09:35 SAST)
Weather:Who cares? The stadium has a roof.
Referee: George Clancy (IRE)

By Ross Hastie

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