Expert Witness: Rugby Champs

Date published: September 4 2014

Former Bok captain Corné Krige reviews the second weekend of the Rugby Championship and looks ahead to Round Three's fixtures.

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

Following one comfortable victory in Auckland and one distinctively narrow one in Salta, the Rugby Championship swings back into action this weekend as Argentina and South Africa go on the road.

Even though they triumphed in South Africa, the Springboks were far from convincing.

“South Africa dug themselves out of a hole for the second week in a row,” said Krige.

“The most important thing when you're not playing well is that you still manage to win games. It wasn't a win that the players would have been proud of, but they did manage to.”

Anyone watching would have spotted the Springboks' scrum creaking and coughing up penalties throughout. Asked to assess the set-piece and pinpoint where South Africa are going wrong, Krige admitted the answer wasn't obvious.

“The Springboks were absolutely annihilated in the scrums,” added Krige.

“In international and provincial rugby, as soon as one of the scrums shows any weakness, the opposition exploits it and that's exactly what New Zealand will try and do.

“I don't think Australia have the pack to necessarily do that to South Africa, so it's a chance this weekend for the Springbok eight to find some confidence and composure in that area to take into the game against the All Blacks.”

So who is at fault? With an experienced unit, few are more so in world rugby, how were South Africa 'annihilated'?

“The concern for South Africa is that you can't put a finger on where their scrum is struggling.

“It's the same personnel; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck and Tendai Mtawarira have played countless Tests together, so there's been no massive change in personnel but they really got annihilated.

“It probably comes down to not being up for it on the day and not getting the technique right – once Argentina could sense the weakness they went for it.

“South Africa are desperate for tighthead props with only Jannie there. Frans Malherbe is a very good option, but he needs to play lots of games to get that necessary experience.”

South Africa only struggled though because Argentina were brilliant, as Krige rightly points out. There has been a noticeable change in tempo and ambition under Daniel Hourcade.

That first win can't come soon enough for los Pumas, but has their best chance already gone against South Africa?

“I thought Argentina had an unbelievable game. They've improved under their new coach and have the right mix of young and experienced players. They're due to win a Rugby Championship game anytime soon,” stated Krige.

“Sometimes you have a bogey team. The way South Africa and Argentina both play, they almost cancel each other out because they're both very physical. If you play like New Zealand against Argentina, running the ball wide, then you can defeat them, but that's difficult when you're under pressure in the scrums as South Africa were.”

The arrival and subsequent departure of Juan Smith into the Springbok fold has naturally caused a stir. Smith's return was billed as nothing short of a miracle, his failure to impact the game then attracting criticism.

“Heyneke Meyer has always said that he wants to pick experienced guys for big matches, such as the game in Salta, so he would have felt more comfortable to go with a guy like Smith rather than say Tebo Mohoje.

“Juan is the type of guy to say if he wasn't up to the challenge. What I've heard is that Meyer wanted to select him last year, but he said that he wasn't ready.

“He didn't have a great game in Salta, but it was always going to be hard for him to play well after so many years out of Test rugby. It would have been great for him to get a run of games back in international rugby first.”

Turning attention to Australia, Kurtley Beale's initial selection at fly-half was a surprise. Now dropped to the bench, Krige believes choosing the Waratahs star in that role in the first place was a mistake.

“I was always worried about Beale at fly-half. In that role you need consistency. Beale has flashes of brilliance but you need a guy who can get you out of trouble. I don't think he's that guy. He's an unbelievable rugby player and an exciting runner with the ball, but for me he doesn't have the mental responsibility to run the game at ten.

“Bernard Foley will be a safer choice and a more accurate goalkicker, which Australia will need up against Morné Steyn if he plays this weekend.”

Nobody could have stopped New Zealand in that rampant form, Beale's involvement aside.

Considering how Australia have improved under Ewen McKenzie's tenure in recent months, Krige sees it as more of a blip than a reason to panic.

“It was a bad day at the office. However, if you have one of those against New Zealand, then they don't just beat you by ten to 15 points, they put you away.

“Australia have to forget about it though very quickly because they're taking on an under pressure Springbok outfit that need a good performance.”

Even when down to 14 men in Auckland, New Zealand coped better than other teams do. The recipient of that first yellow card was, bizarrely, only receiving his second ever trip to the sin bin in 129 Tests.

“Richie McCaw's the master of getting away with murder and as a fellow openside I admire him for it,” laughed Krige.

“That's what he gets paid to do – to cheat and get away it. He's just phenomenal.

“He even admitted himself afterwards in the press conference that what he did was stupid, but that can happen in the heat of the battle.

“I can't believe that's only his second yellow card but I think the referees are onto him now!”

Despite that impressive form against Australia, Krige still believes that New Zealand can be beaten – but only by one team on the planet.

“There's different styles of play; if you play open running rugby against New Zealand you're always going to lose, you'll score some points but you won't win.

“The Springboks, I think, are the only team that can beat them at this stage.

“South Africa have the ability to shorten the All Blacks' time on the ball and physically batter them a bit, which is the only way to defeat them.”

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 Ben Coles