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Red card changes won't affect All Blacks' approach to physicality

By Tom Vinicombe
The All Blacks struggled to build any physical ascendency over the Springboks during the Rugby Championship in 2021. (Photo by AAP Image/Dave Hunt).

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Contrary to some suggestions from around the world, the reintroduction of 20-minute red cards to the Rugby Championship is unlikely to result in players being more willing to toe the line when it comes to things like tackle height.

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When the All Blacks take on the Springboks in Mbombela this weekend, an attritional, confrontational contest is inevitable – and there’ll be plenty of sore bodies on both sides of the ball.

While the tackling may be fierce, if all goes to plan, they’ll still all be entirely legal, and neither side will have to cope with a man down for any period of the game.

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In fact, All Blacks lock Scott Barrett – who was sent off against the Wallabies in 2019 – wasn’t even aware of the reintroduced law that means a red-carded player can be replaced after 20 minutes on the sidelines.

“That’s actually news to me – I actually didn’t know that it was 20 minutes,” he responded when asked for his take on the law.

Angus Ta’avao, the other All Black who faced the media following the squad announcement on Thursday, is another player to have been shown a red card in recent times and it was only after completing a coaching intervention programme that he was confirmed eligible for Saturday’s Test after being sent from the field in the second game against Ireland last month.

Ta’avao said that while it was important to be physical and aggressive against the world-class Springboks pack, it was important to not get carried away.

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“I think it’s probably not as much an ‘angry mode’ [that he needed to tap into] but it’s being really confident in the prep that I’ve done so I don’t have to be second-guessing myself or thinking too much on Saturday,” he said. “But once you cross the line, you have to be (aggressive), otherwise you get caught out.

“The challenge we’re facing, the physical battle, especially us up front and at set-piece, you have to, you have to change. There’ll be little things throughout the week that I’ll be trying to get myself into that zone and get my contacts in and my tackles and that will just set me up well for Saturday. So come the first whistle, we’re just ready to go and we’re loving it.”

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Barrett added that the work during the week will pave the way for making legal – but powerful – hits on the opposition: “I think firstly it’s a technical thing around the tackle we try to get right and Angus alluded to with our work during the week that we’re getting our height right, particularly against a low ball-carrying team, a physical team. We’re working on our habits and making sure we get that right.”

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“It’s discipline but still being physical and wanting to impose yourself on the opposition. We know where the Springboks are coming and that’s right at us up front and it’s a challenge that we get excited by. Where else would you want to play South Africa but in South Africa with a full stadium? That’s right up there for me.”

Saturday’s match will take place in front of a partisan South African crowd at Mbombela Stadium and will mark the All Blacks’ first appearance in the Republic since 2018.

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