When I asked Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick on Friday about whether it was difficult for the team to hold something back and not show their full hand against the All Blacks on Saturday in a World Cup year, he gave an understandable response.
“Regarding us showing our full hand, I’m not really sure what that means also, because when you play against the All Blacks and you want to win against them, you have to be at your best — irrespective of you showing whatever you stand for and what you are up to, building towards the World Cup,” Stick said.
“For us, the main thing was just to prep as best as possible to make sure that when we pitch up on the field tomorrow, we perform at our best.
“So, I don’t think we are going to hold back on anything. We will do everything in our powers to make sure that we win the game against the All Blacks. It’s not going to be easy — it’s something that’s very tough, but we’ve prepped the best possible way to make sure that we win the game tomorrow.”
Of course Stick wasn’t going to say that the Boks will hide some of their special first-phase strike moves on attack, or a clever, unusual tactical kick, or a smart lineout play.
But shouldn’t they do that at this early stage of the build-up to the World Cup? It’s still a long way to go before the tournament opener against Scotland in Marseille on September 10.
After their Auckland clash, the Boks will still play four more Tests before arriving in France — Argentina twice, Wales and New Zealand again.
The excellent performance in the 43-12 win over the Wallabies in Pretoria last week is part of the reason why the Boks should hold some fire at the Mount Smart Stadium.
The variety they showed on attack in particular really caught the eye. In fact, they may have gone too far already in that regard at Loftus Versfeld, as now the whole world knows just how dangerous the likes of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Manie Libbok can be.
Yes, it would be ‘nice’ for the Boks to win the Rugby Championship again, like they did in 2019, but a victory in New Zealand may just give the South Africans too much confidence for France 2023.
There are specific areas that they could rather fine-tune than worrying about the result. There were a couple of missed lineouts at Loftus that were wasted attacking opportunities, although some of that may have been due to having a debutant lock in Jean Kleyn at No 4.
The old firm of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager will hopefully sort out any shortcomings in that regard, although it would be interesting to see how the maul operates without Duane Vermeulen at No 8, as it worked well against the Wallabies.
The goal-kicking is another significant aspect where the Boks will exercise their options in the absence of Handré Pollard and Libbok, although the latter is on the bench in Auckland.
All of Damian Willemse, Cheslin Kolbe and Faf de Klerk have the ability to take aim at the posts, but none of them are regular goal-kickers, so it will be a massive positive for coach Jacques Nienaber if any of them prove that they can handle that responsibility.
How the same starting front row of Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe fare after playing in Pretoria and then flying to New Zealand is something to look out for as well.
Do they empty their tanks in the first half and then Thomas du Toit, Malcolm Marx and Vincent Koch come on at the start of the second, or even earlier?
The Boks will be hoping to create history by beating the All Blacks in Auckland for the first time since 1937, but the bigger picture of preparing for the World Cup would make a defeat a bit more tolerable this time around…