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Beauden Barrett's verdict on facing Springboks opposite Handre Pollard

By Alex McLeod

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Much has been made of the contrasting styles of play between the All Blacks and Springboks in the lead-up to their historic Rugby Championship match in Townsville this weekend.

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On the one hand, you have the All Blacks, the world’s top-ranked side whose playing style is best personified by their eagerness to play free-flowing rugby with ball in hand and attack with a clinical and ruthless edge wherever possible.

On the other side of the fence are the Springboks, the reigning world champions who have returned to test rugby following a two-year hiatus with a game plan that is antithesis of how the All Blacks like to play.

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Scrums, lineouts, rolling mauls and a whole lot of kicking are the attributes that best define how the Springboks have played since their 2019 World Cup success.

The way in which those teams play can also be represented by the way in which their chief playmakers, Barrett and Pollard, conduct themselves on the park.

In Barrett, the All Blacks have a mercurial first-five whose two World Rugby Player of the Year accolades are a testament to the highly-skilled and up-tempo manner in which he plays the game.

By contrast, Pollard is the far the more conservative of the two, an extremely accomplished kicker both off the tee and out of hand, but certainly pales in comparison to his Kiwi counterpart in terms of his running ability.

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The vast difference in types of playmakers possessed by the All Blacks and Springboks are one of many aspects that have contributed to this Saturday’s match between the two sides being billed as a clash of tactical approaches.

For the All Blacks, their style of play has reaped the desired rewards all year long as they are just one competition point away from being crowned Rugby Championship winners for the first time in three years amid an undefeated season thus far.

South Africa’s approach has yielded some success as they out-kicked and outmuscled the British and Irish Lions to clinch a series victory last month, but their negative tactics have since been caught out badly by an enterprising Wallabies outfit in recent weeks.

Given the similarities between Australia’s and New Zealand’s style of play, the All Blacks have been heavily tipped to defeat the Springboks in their 100th meeting in five days’ time, but Barrett is refusing to rule South Africa out of the equation.

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“A wounded Springbok is quite dangerous and we just have to focus on ourselves,” Barrett told reporters on Monday after the Springboks lost the Mandela Challenge Plate following two successive defeats against the Wallabies.

“We’re playing the world champions, we know that they’ll rise to the occasion and be a lot better than they have been in recent weeks.”

Barrett’s expectations of an improved Springboks performance came days after Pollard demanded just that from his side as he spoke to media in the wake of South Africa’s 30-17 defeat to the Wallabies in Brisbane last weekend.

The Springboks vice-captain rejected the notion that his team’s attitude was the catalyst behind their pair of losses, but conceded their efforts at Suncorp Stadium were not up to the standard required of themselves.

“No, definitely not an attitude problem tonight. If every guy misses one tackle, that’s 23 missed tackles. It happens. It’s not good enough, it’s not our standard, but it’s not an attitude problem,” he said.

Pollard took particular aim at his side’s lack of clinical finishing as the Wallabies outscored them by four tries to one.

“I thought it was our best attacking performance of the season in terms of finding space and getting the ball into space. We just weren’t clinical enough,” he said.

“We didn’t capitalise on our opportunities, and every time we got into their half or their 22, we just lost the ball.

“Attack-wise, the plan was perfect and we executed it well, but it was just those last passes and those breakdowns that we just didn’t hold onto today.”

While he can’t be solely blamed for his side’s lack of recent success, as the primary playmaker of the Springboks, Pollard acts as the heartbeat of South Africa’s attack, meaning the responsibility of his side’s woes with ball in hand largely lie with him.

That hasn’t deterred Barrett’s admiration for his opposite, though, as he spoke highly of the 54-test international as they prepare to face off against each other at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

“I haven’t seen much of their recent games, so I’ll be watching the Wallabies-South Africa games in the next two days especially, but Handre’s a player who I have so much respect for,” Barrett said.

“I know he rises to the big occasions, so I always look forward to playing against Handre and hopefully get the opportunity this week.”

Should they both be named to start against each other at No 10, as expected, it will be just the fourth time they have done so in their respective international careers.

Pollard emerged victorious in two of those matches as he steered the Springboks to victory over Barrett’s All Blacks in Johannesburg seven years ago and in Wellington three years ago.

Barrett, meanwhile, started at first-five when the All Blacks dramatically came from behind to beat the Springboks in Pretoria in 2018, while he also started against Pollard from fullback twice two years ago.

Those matches in 2019 ended in a draw and a win for the All Blacks, and the 50-50 success rate between Barrett and Pollard as starters in head-to-head matches reflects the competitive nature of test matches between their countries.

That, Barrett said, is what makes this weekend’s fixture between the All Blacks and Springboks such a special occasion.

“It’s been a while since we’ve played the Boks. It’s the first time for me personally, and everyone in the team, actually playing against world champs,” he said.

“It’s a rivalry that has a long tradition and very memorable games in it, whether it was playing or watching. There’s that proud history between us two, so I can’t wait to play the 100th on the weekend.”

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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Beauden Barrett's verdict on facing Springboks opposite Handre Pollard

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