Durban – I have been following much of what is said in New Zealand ahead of this weekend’s almighty clash between the Springboks and All Blacks at Ellis Park, and have participated in radio discussions with sports stations in the Land of the Long White Cloud. The overwhelming feeling I am getting is that the result of this match matters more than the destiny of the Rugby Championship.
The Kiwis are even more amped for this match than they were for the Eden Park game between the teams a few weeks ago. Callers into Radio Sport were clear that beating the Boks at Ellis Park was primary, and the title secondary.
It would be a hollow Championship win if they lost to the Boks. That is the feeling in New Zealand, and it should be the same in South Africa, and I think it is. Most locals I have spoken to simply want to beat the All Blacks. If we somehow win a title in the process, that is great, but nearly everybody just wants a win over the traditional rivals.
The Boks have said they will go balls-to-the-wall to score four tries and give themselves a chance of winning their first title in this competition since 2009, but hopefully this is just bluster and they will concentrate first and foremost on winning the game.
The All Blacks are the world’s best proponents of profiting on the opposition’s mistakes, and the more adventurous the Boks’ attempts are, the more they will open themselves up to the counter-attack.
The quandary facing Heyneke Meyer is that the All Blacks can be beaten if the Boks stick to their strengths – subdue, pressure and then annihilate. But can it result in a try-fest in the last quarter?
It certainly worked when the Boks played the Wallabies in Brisbane earlier in the competition, but the All Blacks are on another level to the Aussies, and will the Boks have the patience to wage a war of attrition when the title is at stake?
Thank heavens the game is being played at Ellis Park. Sanity has prevailed at last, and while you can understand the motives of Saru in taking the last two games between the teams to Soweto, all it did was take home ground advantage away from the Boks.
The All Blacks hate playing there. They hate everything about journeying into the pits of hell where rabid Bok supporters pound their bus and hurl obscenities at them. Not nice, but it has made Ellis Park a ground where the Kiwis seldom win.
The Boks have no such advantage when they play at the Calabash in Soweto. Frank, but true. The Ellis Park factor will to some degree negate the fact that the All Blacks are the better team.
They are more skilful and the controversy over the refereeing at Eden Park camouflaged the fact that the Boks were outplayed on the day. Yes, they had 14 men for most of the game, but the four All Blacks tries were cleverly manufactured and exposed Springbok frailties on defence in one-on-one situations.
If Bismarck had been on the field, it is likely that those tries would have been scored anyway, because they came from direct breaks and not through exploitation of an extra man out wide.
The Boks have every chance of winning this game. But they would be foolhardy if they played into the hands of the Kiwis by giving them counter-attacking opportunities.
As we have said, South Africans want the win more than anything else. The title is secondary.