Preview: New Zealand v South Africa

11th Jul 2008, 09:12

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JP PIetersen: Has he found his form and touch?

JP PIetersen: Has he found his form and touch?

From bitter cold to just plain bitter. Or from mildly unsavoury to nasty and sour. Whichever way you look at it though, the atmosphere surrounding the two Tests between the All Blacks and Springboks that have opened this year's Tri-Nations has deteriorated alarmingly.

From bitter cold to just plain bitter. Or from mildly unsavoury to nasty and sour. Whichever way you look at it though, the atmosphere surrounding the two Tests between the All Blacks and Springboks that have opened this year's Tri-Nations has deteriorated alarmingly.

Faults lie on both sides, but the pressure is always more on the losers to behave gracefully. Moaning about illegal scrums is a worn-out excuse, and John Smit's departure lounge double-standards rant was behaviour very unbecoming for an experienced captain. He has done his team no favours by lighting that fuse in the aftermath of the match when he can't be on the pitch to face the potential ensuing explosion.

But the All Blacks are no angels. It's not rocket science to target your opposition's best player, and so Dan Carter is always going to be under close scrutiny one way or another. Whining about that isn't going to help anyone's cause - it's odd enough that you should moan when you're winning so comprehensively anyway.

That was the usual boring guff.

The radio interview from Craig Dowd saying that Peter de Villiers was a political 'puppet' to SA Rugby, and the singularly revolting 'racism' reaction and counter-reaction in its aftermath is not the usual boring guff.

Just as Smit did to Corné Krige a week ago over some ill-chosen words, so Rodney So'oialo or even Richie McCaw should do to Dowd: namely tell him to shut up and shove off unless he has something substantial and relevant to Saturday's match to say.

Dowd may say that he was merely answering a question, but just because he is not contracted to the NZRU, it does not mean he does not have a responsibility to the game and to be respectful to visiting teams. The air between the teams was already thick, it thickened visibly on Thursday. It didn't need to

As for De Villiers, his reaction would be enough to practically cook his goose in any country other than South Africa. A national coach has a position of responsibility too; flinging around thinly-veiled accusations of racism while on tour is irresponsibility - or at the very least naivety - personified. He must know that his emotional reactions will transfer to his team, that if he loses control off the pitch, the team might lose control on it.

But he's not been helped by his overlords demanding public apologies when the dignified approach would have been haughty silence or even a sarcastic shrug of the shoulders.

But irresponsibility runs from the top downwards in SA Rugby; it's crazy that nobody was able to step in in time and say: "right boys, button the lips and let the boys do the talking on the park". Andy Marinos did on Friday, but far too late, and it shouldn't have been his job.

Let's have a look at the boys on the park anyway - there are far more problems there for the Boks to worry about than the taunts of an ex-international prop.

The imbalances of last week seem not to have been addressed. Butch James is still without a kicking number twelve to help ease the pressure. Percy Montgomery will step up at times to help him out, but it seems a complicated way of doing it when Francois Steyn could have simply slotted in and thus pushed Jean de Villiers outside one, thereby eliminating the fragile defence of Adi Jacobs.

Monty's inclusion at the expense of Conrad Jantjes, and the instatement of JP Pietersen - no games for a couple of months and only just back from a period of extra conditioning because he wasn't fit enough in June - is a slap in the face for Jantjes after his excellence last week. Couldn't Jantjes have offered more of the same from the wing, feeding off Monty's calm?

The props were crushed last week, yet the same props are chosen. The Boks needed more physicality in the loose, yet Pierre Spies is still ignored. The flaws in the team and the tactics were exposed last week, yet pretty much the same team and tactics are being offered up.

It makes Graham Henry's and New Zealand's job pretty easy. Changing Greg Somerville for John Afoa means there is a little more punch in the loose, going on Afoa's form against Ireland in June. That will compensate for the loss of Brad Thorn a touch as well. The drier conditions ought to mean we see a little more of the flair that is on show, especially with confidence levels soaring.

So, more of the same this week from both teams. Probably about the same result as well. But please let there be none of the off-field idiocy translating onto the pitch.

Ones to watch:

For New Zealand: John Afoa
was in the middle of an excellent debut against Ireland when injury intervened. Afoa was New Zealand's top ball-carrying prop during this year's Super 14, and has long been waiting in the wings, boasting an impressive 60 Super Rugby caps at the age of just 24 as well as an impressive 120kg frame. Attention from South Africa is focussing on Tony Woodcock's side of the scrum, but forgetting Afoa in the wake of this would be perilous. Watch for his extensive forays with the ball in hand as well.

For South Africa: JP Pietersen's recall from what was the outer edges of the Bok squad a little more than a month ago is a real eyebrow-raiser. Peter de Villiers said he was out of condition after the Super 14 in which the youngster failed either to score a try or impress, unlike his counterpart Tonderai Chavhanga. It's been a month since then, maybe Pietersen is fit and has rediscoverd his mojo.

Head to head: Dan Carter v Butch James. The best in the world against... how do you classify Butch James? With the necessary support cast, James is a dominant force as he proved in the World Cup. But his is a fragile temperament; like many fly-halves, the team has to play to him for him to play to them back. With an erratic scrum-half, with no kicking inside centre to take the pressure off him, and with the speed of the game increased under the ELVs, James faces a tough task in getting up to speed quickly enough to deal with the world's best. And when he's not, that old disciplinary worry is showing signs of blighting his game again.

Recent results:

2008
New Zealand won 19-8 in Wellington
2007 New Zealand won 33-6 in Christchurch
2007 New Zealand won 26-21 in Durban
2006 South Africa won 21-20 in Rustenburg
2006 New Zealand won 45-26 in Pretoria
2006 New Zealand won 35-17 in Wellington
2005 New Zealand won 31-27 in Dunedin
2005 South Africa won 22-16 in Cape Town
2004 South Africa won 40-26 in Johannesburg
2004 New Zealand won 23-21 in Christchurch
2003 New Zealand won 29-9 in Sydney (RWC)
2003 New Zealand won 19-11 in Dunedin
2003 New Zealand won 52-16 in Pretoria
2002 New Zealand won 30-23 in Durban
2002 New Zealand won 41-20 in Wellington
2001 New Zealand won 26-15 in Auckland
2001 New Zealand won 12-3 in Cape Town

Prediction