Barrett reveals how Springboks ingenuity led to high ball struggles
Heading into Saturday’s historic encounter with the Springboks, the All Blacks had a very clear understanding of what their opposition were going to throw at them.
Since Rassie Erasmus came in as head coach of South Africa in 2018, the Springboks had gravitated towards a forwards-oriented, kick-heavy style of play and after winning the World Cup in 2019, the team have doubled down on those tactics, even with new coach Jacques Nienaber taking over.
Against the British and Irish Lions, the Springboks earned territory through repeated penalties at the set-piece coupled with opposition errors under the high ball as halfbacks Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach hoisted box kick after box kick into the sky.
When the Springboks deviated from that play style for moments against the Wallabies over the past two weekends, their gameplan came unstuck and Australia profited. As such, all expectations were that world champions would revert to the game plan that has proven successful for them in recent times.
Despite knowing exactly what they’d be up against on Saturday night, however, the All Blacks still struggled at times under the high ball in the 19-17 win.
Man-of-the-match Jordie Barrett certainly caught more kicks than he dropped in the fullback role, but it certainly wasn’t a perfect game from the 24-year-old.
“The high ball stuff, I thought he defused really, really well from a personal side, particularly in the first half,” All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said following the game. “Second half, they shortened their kicking up and made it a bit of a jungle under the ball so it was hard to get bodies under, so we have to have a look at how we can do that better.”
While the game started in the mid-afternoon, the stadium lights blared into life in the second half, which some may have speculated was the cause for the All Blacks’ struggles.
Barrett himself, so often forced to rush forward and leap into the air while taking knocks from players on all sides, admitted that the major problem was something entirely different, however. Speaking to Australian broadcaster Stan Sports‘ Greg Clark after the match, Barrett revealed that Springboks scrum-half De Klerk was adding spin to the high balls, making the kicks’ trajectories exceptionally difficult to judge.
“The back three probably needed a helmet on tonight, [there was] that much traffic coming our way,” Barrett said.
“The most difficult thing about the high ball was Faf was kicking top-spinners and then cutters. So it’s hard enough getting up in the air but they kind of dip late, so as you can see, we had a bit of trouble under them but we were lucky we caught enough in the end to win the match.”
While the All Blacks struggled to bring their A-game against the Springboks, the narrow victory provided some perfect lessons for NZ moving forward. #AllBlacks #Springboks #NZLvRSA100https://t.co/LNRv7mpTta
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 25, 2021
Barrett finished the game with 12 carries to his name – three more than any other player involved in the match – while also kicking the match-winning penalty with just minutes left on the clock.
And while neither Barrett nor any of his teammates had perfect games by any stretch of the imagination, the young fullback acknowledged that sometimes you’re simply happy to escape with a win, especially when the opposition put you under as much pressure as the Springboks did on Saturday night.
“I think it’ll be remembered as one of those typical South African test matches, to be honest,” Barrett said. “We always knew we were going to get a response out of them.
“These test matches are a grind and I’m just rapt.”
As for next weekend’s rematch, Barrett and the rest of the All Blacks will be expecting more of the same from the world champions: high balls, high balls and more high balls.
“We know what’s coming.”
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