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All Blacks not ruling out surprise tactics from 'old foe'

By Tom Vinicombe
2018 Investec Rugby Championship, All Blacks v South Africa, 15-September-2018

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The current iteration of the Springboks have built their reputation on kicking-oriented, forwards-dominated rugby – but the All Blacks aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket when it comes to preparing to play against the world champions this weekend.

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The All Blacks and Springboks will square off in back-to-back Test matches in South Africa over the coming weeks and while Ian Foster’s men have some idea what their opposition will bring to the table, they certainly aren’t ruling out a surprise attack.

Last year, every expectation was that the Springboks would simply try out-muscle the All Blacks up front in their rematch match on the Gold Coast during the Rugby Championship after attempting to do just that in their first clash of the competition.

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While they may not have entirely shied away from that tactic, the Springboks came out of the blocks firing with some brilliant interlinking play to set up an early try for Damian de Allende.

Throughout the match, the Springboks weren’t afraid to throw caution to the wind and they eventually triumphed 31-29 after suffering a 17-19 defeat in the more kicking-oriented first match-up. The All Blacks will be wary that South Africa have plenty of firepower to call upon should they decide to spring a surprise again in 2022.

“They’ll definitely play to their strengths, as they always do,” said experienced All Blacks second-rower Sam Whitelock this week. “In saying that, you never want to go in there and think that you have their game plan in your head.

“They’re smart guys, got a number of players that play around the world, so they’ve got a number of different styles they can go to and that’s something for us [to keep an eye on], to make sure we can stop their Plan A and from that, if they change it, then we’ve got to be able to stop [their Plan B] as well.

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“That’s the beauty of rugby. You can go out there and sometimes you know how they’re going to play and just stopping it’s the major [challenge]. That’s the cool thing, that’s the cool challenge about playing against South Africa – the old foe, as such.”

While the Springboks eventually secured a 2-1 series victory over Wales in July, the All Blacks had no such luck, dropping their final two matches against Ireland to suffer a historic series defeat.

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Whitelock says that the pressure the All Blacks are facing now is similar to when he first earned a call-up in 2010.

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“When I first came into the team we were going into a World Cup at home, hadn’t won it for 24 years and there was a lot of external pressure. The best advice I got given from the senior players was ‘Don’t read into media, don’t worry about those things, just control what you can control,’ and that’s the main thing I’ve been trying to tell the boys and think about myself.

“Controlling how you’re training, how you’re playing, how you’re preparing, that’s the best thing I got given as advice and it’s still true now I’m one of the older boys.

“I think from looking back to look forward, the times we’ve been here before, especially nailing the week and you’ve just got to deal with what’s in front of you.

Today, we just had to deal with clarity, get that understanding, and then as the week goes that will change slightly. But you’ve got to nail the days that lead into kick-off on Saturday. We’ve got to nail them and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Saturday’s match between the All Blacks and Springboks will kick off at 5:05pm SAST (3:05am NZT) from Mbombela Stadium.

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