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There is hope for hurting Boks

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The Boks have a point to prove when they face New Zealand.

Heyneke Meyer and a number of Springboks have spoken this week about being written off ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the All Blacks.

It appears to be a ploy by the South Africans to try to make the All Blacks believe that all they need to do to win this Rugby Championship Test is to get inside the closed-off Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Meyer was on the charm offensive this week, even going so far as to describe captain Richie McCaw as probably the best rugby player ever. It drew a gasp from at least one New Zealand journalist during the press conference, and the coach went further by stating that the All Blacks are “almost unbeatable at times”.

But a possible negative side-effect is that the Boks may start to believe all the hype themselves. After arriving in a sunny Dunedin yesterday, it is highly unlikely that South Africa will suddenly decide to play a different, more attacking game and overpower the All Blacks, but there is always hope.

That is one thing that cannot be taken away from anyone, and in fact, the Boks have more reason to be hopeful of an improbable victory here on Saturday than what many people may think. They beat New Zealand in their last encounter – an 18-5 win in Port Elizabeth last year. In that match, under-fire flyhalf Morné Steyn kicked the Boks to victory with five penalties and a drop goal.

Meyer is obviously correct when he says that it is different playing the All Blacks in South Africa compared to New Zealand, but guess who was the last team to beat New Zealand at home? That’s right – the Springboks, in Hamilton in 2009. Here’s another fact that Bok fans can think about in contemplating a shock South African win – the last time the national team were in Dunedin, it was the “Ricky Januarie Test” at the House of Pain in 2008.

The Boks are hurting after Perth last week. They were looking good at halftime, but ill-discipline and poor finishing scuppered their chances of victory. What if they remedy those problems tomorrow?

Being disciplined not only means not conceding penalties, but also putting them over, so the two Steyns, Morné and Frans, can’t afford any misses. Morné will once again be under the microscope when it comes to his decision-making, and perhaps a greater influence from his namesake Frans at inside centre could have the desired effect.

Francois Louw’s introduction will help to negate the effect of McCaw at the breakdowns, Duane Vermeulen will feel more at ease following his Test debut, and the presence of Johan Goosen, Patrick Lambie and Juan de Jongh on the bench provides Meyer with a couple of exciting attacking options.

There are a few question marks over this All Black team. Piri Weepu’s sudden shift up to the starting line-up indicates some uncertainty at scrumhalf, Aaron Cruden was not convincing at flyhalf against Argentina and Sam Whitelock is back at No 5 after being left out recently. Many local critics are also unhappy about the All Blacks’ displays against Australia, despite a 22-0 result at Eden Park.

However, Andrew Hore’s selection at hooker will be a boon for the All Blacks, as he is more accurate than Keven Mealamu in the lineouts and is brilliant at the breakdowns. Likewise, flank Liam Messam will add extra speed to the loose trio.

The Boks have travelled a long way to be here at the “end of the earth”, and the least they can do is produce a performance worthy of the jersey. And here’s one final fact to mull over before settling down in front of your TVs on Saturday – the Boks have won four out of the five Tests in which Irish referee George Clancy has been in charge, and Clancy had the whistle in the Bok victory over the All Blacks last year ...

TEAMS FOR DUNEDIN

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock. Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Tamati Ellison.

South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (capt), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis/Pat Cilliers, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Johan Goosen, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Pat Lambie.

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland). Kickoff: 9.35am SA time. TV: M-Net/SS1/SS HD.

LAST 10 MATCHES

20 August 2011: South Africa 18 New Zealand 5, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth.

30 July 2011: New Zealand 40 South Africa 7, Westpac Stadium, Wellington.

21 August 2010: New Zealand 29 South Africa 22, FNB Stadium, Johannesburg.

17 July 2010: New Zealand 31 South Africa 17, Westpac Stadium, Wellington.

10 July 2010: New Zealand 32 South Africa 12, Eden Park, Auckland.

12 September 2009: South Africa 32 New Zealand 29, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton.

1 August 2009: South Africa 31 New Zealand 19, King’s Park, Durban.

25 July 2009: South Africa 28 New Zealand 19, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein.

16 August 2008: New Zealand 19 South Africa 0, Newlands, Cape Town.

12 July 2008: South Africa 30 New Zealand 28, Carisbrook, Dunedin. – Cape Times


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