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All Blacks v Springboks – Tri-Nations 2: Preview

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

This is the tightest competition we have had for years in the Tri-Nations, yet if the All Blacks win against South Africa on Saturday night it might well sew up the title for them for 2010.

Only a week ago South Africa strutted into Auckalnd the favourites to back up last years comphensive victory in the toughtest Rugby competitin in the world. With the numers 1,2 and 3 ranked teams competeing there is nowhere to hide. Unlike the World Cup there are no easy games against 2nd tier nations to get a breather and try things out.
So comprehensive was the All Blacks demolition of the Springboks that the All Blacks have rightly taken over the favourites tag. Claims of South Africas demise may be a little premature. They will be embarrased by their efforts last week and should mount a stronger challenge at Westpac Stadium. The All Blacks on the other hand must be struggling to recapture the burning desire for revenge that propelled them last week. Everything points to an improved Sprinboks effort and a slightly less intense All Blacks performance. That means this should be the close game that was promised last week.
There has been only forced changes in both teams. For the All Blacks, Piri Weepu replaces Jimmy Cowan at half back in the starting line-up. Jimmy Cowan despite a slight abdominal muscle tear is still on the bench. This should strengthen the All Blacks attacking edge and tactical kisking options. If Piri can have a tighter more accurtate game than Jimmy did last week then it he might find himself starting a few more times in this tournament. Cowans clearences were laboured at times and his kicking game was average.
The other change comes with winger Joe Rokocoko out with a hamstring strain. The surprise exclusion Zac Guildford (who would have been next in line to replace Rokocoko) from the All Blacks Tri-Nations squad has opened the door for Rene Ranger to debut in the black jersey.
The Springboks have CJ van der Linde replacing injured prop Jannie du Plessis and Danie Rossouw coming in at lock to cover for the suspended Bakkies Botha.   
As for the game itself. It is obvious that there will be a lot of intensity brought to the game by both teams. Aside from the emotion though we should expect to see Rene Ranger seeing plenty of ball – not always from Conrad Smith but mostly from Morne Steyn via the clouds above Wespac Stadium. The Boks will see Ranger as the weak link and bombs, grubbers and hulking forwards with big fends will be coming his way.
Looking at the All Blacks defensive line-up it is hard to see any other way through. Initially we will probably see Mils Muliaina covering more on Rangers side with Cory Jane playing deeper to cover the back. If the Springbok threat to Rangers left wing is blunted then the All Blacks will be in the box seat to take out the game. The Springboks will need to rely on field position and a combination of drop goals and penalties via referee Alain Rolland's whistle to give them a winning score.
The All Blacks showed last week just how much the new law interpretion at the breakdown has benefitted their game. Counter attacking from depth is now their best weapon. Last season the same tactics only saw lost field position and kickable penalties given away. Also last season the old law interpretations that led to a kickfest played to the Springboks strengths of strong tactical kickers and a dominant lineout. Now we are seeing few kicks and even fewer lineouts as teams can now attack with the ball in hand and retain posession.
The South Africans have made much of the fact that Saturdays starting lineup with 700 caps is the most experienced Springbok team ever to take the field. If this is the best they have and for the second week running they come a poor second to the All Blacks then it is likely that when they return to New Zealand soil next year for the World Cup that there will be a few names missing – especially in the forward pack.
Not very long ago the Tri-Nations was in danger of being a channel changer even for hardened Rugby fans. Now for the second week running we have a fantastic match in prospect. What a differnece a little tackle ball re-interpretation can make.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Rene Ranger, Daniel Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam, Jimmy Cowan, Aaron Cruden, Israel Dagg.
Springboks team: Zane Kirchner, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Wynand Oliver, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Ricky Januarie, Pierre Spies, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw, CJ van der Linde, John Smit (capt), Gurthro Steenkamp. Res: Chiliboy Ralepelle, BJ Botha, Andries Bekker, Ryan Kankowski, Ruan Pienaar, Butch James, Gio Aplon.
Train Spotting Fact: The All Blacks scored a significant milestone in last week’s 32–12 victory over South Africa. The try scored by Tony Woodcock took the total points scored by the All Blacks in 462 Test matches played to 11,786 points to pass France’s 11,783 (from 636 Tests) as the most points scored by any team in Test match rugby.

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