Auckland – Willie le Roux might want to try and sneak a stepladder onto Eden Park on Saturday because the All Blacks are planning to rain kicks down on the Springbok winger.
“Willie looks like a quality player and he’s just burst onto the scene this year,” said 31-Test New Zealand fullback Israel Dagg.
“We’ve got to try and turn that around and see if he likes those high balls. Put him under pressure and try put him off his game, because if we give him ball in hand, he’s going to punish us.”
The battle for aerial supremacy is shaping up to be a pivotal one.
In a crunch Rugby Championship Test between the top two nations in the world, everything risky has been rubbed off the whiteboards in both team rooms.
The Boks and All Blacks are the two biggest kicking teams in the competition, but the former trail the latter by some way when it comes to kicking contestables.
The goal of an up-and-under, or an isolation kick, is to pin a defending winger under the punt while one of the kicker’s teammates streaks into the landing zone to snatch the ball out of the air. Second prize is to hurry the opposing kick-receiver into making an error, or flattening him in a high-speed tackle before forcing a turnover.
“I love those high balls when they put them up,” added a confident Dagg. “But the Springboks are a team that can kick – they kick really well and they can put a team under pressure, so we’ll have to be on top of our game as a back three. If we’re not, they’re going to punish us.”
The All Blacks favour these tactics more so than the Boks, hoisting 31 per cent of their 83 kicks while South Africa have looked for hang time on just a quarter of 72 punts.
Dagg will front a back-three tactic to test Le Roux’s composure and ability in the high-ball contest.
A blanket order from both camps to keep errors to a minimum in a crunch match will make this aerial battle between the speedsters the richest source of turnover possession, and turnovers are where most tries originate.
“This Test is huge and it will probably be the team that takes that one per cent opportunity that comes up, that will get the win,” said the Kiwi fullback.
“They’re a team that like to put the back three under pressure and hopefully I can do my core role well – catch those balls, put the ball in front of us (kick), and run hard.”
There is a feeling among the players and coaches from both sides that there’s a lot more riding on the outcome of this match than New Zealand’s 76-year winning record against South Africa at Eden Park.
“This Test is huge, the biggest since the (2011) World Cup final,” said Dagg. “Both teams are on edge – I know the Boks have a lot of confidence from their win over Australia at the weekend, and we’re pretty disappointed with how we played (against Argentina) in the wet.”