Sunday, April 01, 2007

3N: All Blacks vs. Springboks preview

July 20, 2006

Matt Brown looks into the crystal ball and breaks down the changes to team selection for this weekends' All Blacks vs. Springboks encounter in Wellington.

Brownie scores some excellent points in his analysis.

But I disagree with him on one fine point. Brownie writes up front that ABs coach Graham Henry "has supreme confidence in the depth of his squad and that he genuinely believes South Africa is incapable of threatening his team in Wellington."

I believe Henry has confidence in the depth of his squad as well. However I am less certain he believes victory is a lead-pipe cinch. I actually think Henry is concerned. He can't go from the Ireland and Argie tests thinking a "rotation" team can walk away with a guaranteed win, not with any supreme confidence, no matter how badly the Boks fronted against the Wallabies last weekend.

(And let's face it, a South African rugby player approaches a test match against the Kiwis with a lot more emotion and ferocity that they do the Aussies. It's a genetic thing that goes back generations.)

Besides, the Boks have beaten the Blacks twice in the past two years, albeit on the Boks home soil. I don't believe he's taking the Boks lightly. I reckon he's pushing his players to prove themselves.

As much as Henry would hate to lose this test match, I think he has resigned himself to the bigger picture. His job is secure, so the demands of him winning test-to-test right now, despite the enormous pressure from fans and media at home, is not critical. What is paramount to Henry is that when his tenure expires, he knows his legacy will be determined by the results of the 2007 RWC, not one test out of six in the 2006 Tri-Nations.

Henry saw the disaster that befell the ABs in the 2003 RWC, when Tana Umaga went down in a freak collision with Carlos Spencer and all the frailties of former coach John Mitchell's selection became exposed and the team fell apart. The scenario of Leon MacDonald playing center and being frontline goalkicker in a RWC semi-final against the host nation Australia was palpably absurd. MacDonald hadn't played either role in first-class rugby, let alone international test match rugby, let alone the arena of a massive knock-out World Cup playoff match.

If another injury were to happen on the eve of- or during the 2007 RWC -- and let's face it, rugby is a physical game where injuries are inevitable -- Henry has to know that he can throw *any* player from his 30-man squad into the First XV who will have been "tested" against tough opponents and have the confidence they can slip in without missing a beat. The fringe players need to build that confidence themselves, and the only way they are going to develop it is from game experience playing test matches under pressure against hard-ass opponents.

Nobody should write off these wounded Boks. I am certain that Graham Henry would do so at his peril, and he and his selection panel are too intelligent for that. The Bok mentality is hardness and pride. Two years ago they won the Tri-Nations. They were pushovers last week, but they've been stinging and won't lay down Saturday. Henry knows this. He's putting pressure on his team to front and get a result. The old school headmaster is giving his steeds an examination -- a "test" -- and it's up to the players to pass the grade or fail.

Better to build confidence of the understudies on home soil rather than overseas, and I suspect Henry will want a rested and healthy front-line starting XV for the following test next week in Australia.

Remember, unlike other years when the Tri-Nations were simple home-and-away fixtures (which is pretty difficult at the best of times), this year the ABs are playing three tests each against their SANZAR opponents. That means three tests against the Boks and two more to come against the Wallabies. That's a heavy workload.

Again, I don't think Henry is changing his team because of supreme confidence; I believe it's because he's trying to do the best for his team building toward the ultimate goal -- France, November, 2007.


Rugby Planet has their match preview. They predict the All Blacks to win by 15 points.

Bookmaker has NZ winning by 21 points. I'm not a betting man, but if I was, I'd place a few dollars on the the Boks to cover that. I cautiously see NZ winning by 10. Fans at The Silver Fern are tipping NZ, but like myself are exercising restraint and thinking the scoreline will be a lot closer that "experts" like the Sydney Morning Herald's Greg Crowden who hyperbolically tells Ben Kimber in their online video preview that he sees NZ winning by "250 points."

Ex-AB front rower John Drake provides another insightful preview analysis from the New Zealand perspective. The whole thing is worth reading, here's his close:

"The All Blacks should win well. The score will matter, but the style and attitude should be the focus. Unless the forward platform is set and the attack grows after authority is established, things could get messy.

"A clue: look at the first few lineouts and scrums and the tactics from Carter. If things are loose and lacking drive and he decides passing is better than kicking, then start to worry. The Springboks surely can't play as badly again but even an improvement should not be enough to beat the Rotation Blacks."

And Mike Greenaway, rugby writer for the Natal Mercury, provides a sobering sidebar to the Springboks current woes.

Disillusioned rugby fans here have been doing an awful lot of wondering about that curious 49-0 disintegration in Brisbane, but with my morning paper telling me that 51 policemen were killed in South Africa in the first six months of this year, I am left wondering how we put a rugby team on the field at all.

The point I am making is that sport in South Africa is a microcosm of an unstable society. Many rugby reasons have been given for the Boks' implosion against the Wallabies, and many of them are valid, but I don't believe enough credence is given to off-the-field factors that gnaw away at the foundations underpinning South African sport, with the result that the entire edifice can come crashing down when they combine with negative on-field factors .

That horrifying statistic on police fatalities illustrates that South Africa is in the grip of a violent redistribution of wealth, and tension and distrust permeate all facets of life in this country. ...

Read the rest.

  • rugby channel button

  • The All Blacks vs. Springboks test will be broadcast live online at Mediazone's Rugby Channel. Full live coverage kicks-off at 3:35 am ET this Saturday, July 22 (wee hours of the mornin'). Tape-delay downloads will be available afterward. Cost is $7.99.

    Post a Comment

    Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

    << Home