Boks vs All Blacks: Here are three battles to savour
CAPE TOWN – This game is World Cup-final material.
While South Africans and New Zealanders will probably have to be reminded more than once that the winner of this game can’t be seen as the automatic conqueror in Japan, it’s the match of the weekend, scratch that, the match of the group stages.
It’s a blockbuster that could be decided by a number of factors - execution in the wet, set-piece prowess, tactical expertise. Individual contributions will also have a say in how things play out in Yokohama on Saturday.
Here are three battles to savour in the Springboks v All Blacks opener:
Handre Pollard vs Beauden Barrett
While Pollard will be hoping for a neater tactical performance than the one he produced against Japan in their final warm-up, those odd kicks that didn’t find touch or missed shots at goal were uncharacteristic.
The Bulls pivot has proven why he’s the Bok incumbent at 10, and while he’s a physical presence and a sniper off the tee, the reliable 10 doesn’t play the same role as a Beauden Barrett, for example, when it comes to creating opportunities. That in itself makes it key that Pollard just does what he does best.
The Beauden Barrett show is a production that can be disastrous for opposition teams.
This guy can create the kind of magic that would put David Blaine to shame. He can create just as effortlessly as he can have a go and finish himself, courtesy of that pace and rugby spectacles that sometimes only he seems to wear. It’s unlikely that his play making-deluxe abilities won’t feature on Saturday.
Damian de Allende vs Sonny Bill Williams
Damian de Allende will want to carry the fine form he showed during Super Rugby into his World Cup campaign. And if he can be a similar presence to the one he was in 2015, there can’t be much doubt as to who will rule midfield this weekend.
De Allende has been impressive on attack with the Stormers in 2019, while his kicking game also seemed to have made considerable strides during the competition. That alone should end any “who should be the Bok 12” talks.
SBW has had a different season. Yes, his offloading game will always be a threat to opposition defences, but he’s also offloaded a bit of fitness this year, a situation not helped by injury interruptions. His form hasn’t been at its highest in recent years.
Earlier this year, form centre Ngani Laumape’s superb displays would certainly have piled the pressure on Williams, whether he felt it or not, and if ever he wanted to prove that he’s the man when it comes to centre stage for the Kiwis, it’s now.
Pieter-Steph du Toit vs Ardie Savea
Pieter-Steph du Toit has made it easy to work out at least one Man of the Match contender before a game even kicks off - him. Whether it’s Test match rugby or Super Rugby encounters, the lock-turned-flank is almost always a top performer. Hitting rucks, grinding at the maul, monster carries, non-stop defence (and the odd kick down touch) are key points on the 27-year-old’s rugby resume. His natural athletic ability, physicality and work rate make him one of the most vital elements in the Springboks’ operation, and how he goes on Saturday will matter a lot.
The way Ardie Savea can operate a rugby pitch is something else. And he does it in different ways.
Seeing a loose forward - or any forward - run around wingers like it’s a normal part of his job will always be a sight to behold. Seeing the skilful Savea do it, however, has become almost natural.
The Hurricanes star can do things that other players just can’t, and his influence at the breakdown, in a game in general, really, makes him a key figure for Saturday’s contest. While he and Du Toit are different kind of flankers, the one thing they have in common is a ridiculous work rate.
The Springboks for the weekend's clash
15-Willie le Roux, 14-Cheslin Kolbe, 13-Lukhanyo Am, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Makazole Mapimpi, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Faf de Klerk, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6-Siya Kolisi (captain), 5-Franco Mostert, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Malcom Marx, 1-Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16-Bongi Mbonambi, 17-Tendai Mtawarira, 18-Trevor Nyakane, 19-RG Snyman, 20-Francois Louw, 21-Herschel Jantjies, 22-Frans Steyn, 23-Jesse Kriel@WynonaLouw