There was much negativity about the Springbok failure to grab the four try bonus in their win over Argentina at a sodden Loftus last week, but amidst all the gloom an important point was missed – the draw in Sydney earlier in the day did mean it is still advantage South Africa.
There is an understandable assumption that both the Wallabies and All Blacks will pick up four try bonus points in their home matches against the Pumas – not that either of them have managed it every time they’ve played them, mind you – and in that sense not grabbing the bonus in Pretoria was a miss.
However, the 12-all draw in Sydney was a far more significant event to the outlook for the competition than the missed bonus point if you consider that it meant that New Zealand dropped two points that they didn’t last year, and that the Wallabies have suffered a blemish at home. It means that if the Boks keep a clean slate at home and then win two games overseas they will win the quadrangular competition for the first time.
A few four try bonus points along the way will of course be a big help, but for now the focus should be to just win against the Pumas in Salta on Saturday, for that will be enough to preserve their advantage, and will give them some kind of foundation to prepare for the tour of Australasia that is likely to be the decisive stage of their challenge.
The Boks have one thing going for them ahead of this game that they didn’t have last week – the narrowness of the win at Loftus, and the way they struggled, will have swept away the arrogance that was starting to become apparent off the field with public statements that focused on chasing tries and bonus points and on it with the eschewing of kickable penalty opportunities.
It never ceases to amaze how quickly the mood of the South African rugby public can shift. This time last week it appeared everyone was buying into the image of the Boks playing a high paced, high intensity game and sweeping their way to a bonus point win. It was not just the Loftus game that fitted that image, but the ones to follow.
Now, after an unexpected Pretoria deluge that frankly did make that bonus point and that type of game impossible, there is massive concern and there are many who appear to be expecting the Boks to lose. Perhaps that’s a good thing, for we saw in Nelspruit against Wales, when the Boks appeared beforehand to buy into the massive public optimism that followed a resounding win the week before, what can happen when there is complacency. The Boks were lucky not to lose that game.
The Boks will be grounded now, they will be going into the game in Salta expecting a tough battle and looking just for the win. And that may be a good reason why we shouldn’t be surprised if they confound the expectations by picking up the four try bonus they didn’t get last week.
That outcome will be arrived at if Willie le Roux is given the opportunity to do what the wet weather didn’t allow him to do last week, which is to turn any half chance into a try scoring opportunity. It will depend though on the pack laying some kind of platform, and this match will be a litmus test for the big men in the sense that Pretoria wasn’t the first time this season that they have been found wanting in some key areas.
The scrumming, so good last season, has been an area of particular concern since the second test against Wales, and the absence of Victor Matfield has left the lineout looking decidedly creaky too. That was where the criticism last week was justified – the wet weather may have been an excuse for not playing the game the team wanted to play, but it wasn’t an excuse for the poor performance of the forwards.
The pack does look to have a better balance this week. Marcell Coetzee was industrious at Loftus, but the best South African forward units have a big ball carrier at No 7. Willem Alberts was missed, but if the Juan Smith of 2014 is anything like the Juan Smith of 2010, when he last wore the green and gold, the big Sharks player will not be missed this time.
It is up to the pack as a whole though to get the core part of their business right. If they do, the Boks may be better equipped in other areas to score tries than their opponents are and they may find the anticipated dry field in Salta more to their liking than the green but drenched grass of home.
Teams for Salta (Saturday, 9.40pm SA time)
Argentina: 15.Joaquin Tuculet, 14.Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 13.Marcelo Bosch, 12.Juan Martin Hernandez, 11.Manuel Montero, 10.Nicolas Sanchez, 9.Martin Landajo, 8.Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7.Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6.Pablo Matera, 5.Thomas Lavanini, 4.Mariano Galarza, 3.Ramiro Herrera, 2.Agustin Creevy (captain), 1.Marcos Aryeza.
Replacements: 16.Matias Cortese, 17.Bruno Postiglioni, 18.Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19.Matias Alemanno, 20.Leonardo Senatore, 21.Tomas Cubelli, 22.Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23.Horacio Agulla.
South Africa: 15.Willie le Roux, 14.Cornal Hendricks, 13.Damian de Allende, 12.Jean de Villiers, 11.Bryan Habana, 10.Handre Pollard, 9.Ruan Pienaar, 8.Duane Vermeulen, 7.Juan Smith, 6.Francois Louw, 5.Lood de Jager, 4.Eben Etzebeth, 3.Jannie du Plessis, 2.Bismarck du Plessis, 1.Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16.Adriaan Strauss, 17.Tendai Mtawarira, 18.Frans Malherbe, 19.Bakkies Botha, 20.Marcell Coetzee, 21.Francois Hougaard, 22.Morne Steyn, 23.Lwazi Mvovo.
Prediction: Boks to win with bonus point.
NEW ZEALAND v AUSTRALIA, Auckland
Referee Jaco Peyper apparently owned up to All Black coach Steve Hansen after last weekend’s nightmare performance from him for the mistakes he made. Not that it makes any difference now, for the result is in the record book, but Peyper does deserve some credit for his honesty. What the IRB needs to do is note that the mistake was admitted to, and that this was yet another game that was overshadowed and influenced by the man with the whistle.
The All Blacks benefitted from that failing of the sport last year when they played the Springboks in Auckland, the venue for their second clash with the Wallabies, and fate has decreed that the man with the whistle this time will be the same Romain Poite who ruined the Bok chances 12 months ago.
The Kiwis were done in last week, but two wrongs don’t make a right, so let’s hope that Saturday’s game doesn’t get overshadowed by the refereeing, for Australia’s competitiveness coupled with some injuries/withdrawals/changes to the All Black team could make this one of the closest games played between these teams at Eden Park in a long time.
Last week’s result was perfect for South Africa, when many Bok fans would probably have been supporting the Wallabies, but it is debatable that an Australian win in this match should be greeted with enthusiasm. Such a result would would give the Aussies massive momentum before the clash with Jean de Villiers’ team in Perth in a fortnight from now.
It will also put the Wallabies on the high road, and they will become serious contenders for the competition.
Ryan Crotty, who comes in at No 12 for Ma’a Nonu, is not the equal of the man he replaces, and neither is Liam Messam the equivalent of Jerome Kaino on the blindside flank, so the All Blacks do look less potent than the team that played last week. This though is the time when champion teams respond, and the All Blacks are a champion team, and at a venue where they haven’t lost for two decades, they should win.
Adding spice to this game is the knowledge on the All Black part that a win will retain them the Bledisloe Cup with one match, to be played in October, still to come. The challenging team has to win the three match series outright to take the trophy, and a New Zealand win on Saturday will mean they can at worst draw the series. The Wallabies haven’t won the Bledisloe since 2002 and are desperate to do so.
Teams for Auckland (Saturday, 9.35am SA time)
New Zealand: 15.Ben Smith, 14.Cory Jane, 13.Conrad Smith, 12.Ryan Crotty, 11.Julian Savea, 10.Aaron Cruden, 9.Aaron Smith, 8.Kieran Read, 7.Richie McCaw (captain), 6.Liam Messam, 5.Sam Whitelock, 4.Brodie Retallick, 3.Owen Franks, 2.Dane Coles, 1.Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16.Keven Mealamu, 17.Ben Franks, 18.Charlie Faumuina, 19.Steven Luatua, 20.Sam Cane, 21.TJ Perenara, 22.Beauden Barrett, 23.Malakai Fekitoa.
Australia: 15.Israel Folau, 14.Pat McCabe, 13.Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12.Matt Toomua, 11.Rob Horne, 10.Kurtley Beale, 9.Nic White, 8.Wycliff Palu, 7.Michael Hooper (captain), 6.Scott Fardy, 5.Rob Simmons, 4.Sam Carter, 3.Sekope Kepu, 2,Nathan Charles, 1.James Slipper.
Replacements: 16.James Hanson, 17.Pek Cowan, 18.Ben Alexander, 19.Will Skelton, 20.Scott Higginbotham, 21.Nick Phipps, 22.Bernard Foley, 23.Tevita Kuridrani.
Referee: Romain Poite.
Prediction: New Zealand to win.
Gavin Rich for SuperSport