'Ruthless and clinical' Springboks to bounce back from 'flat' patch
Some of the shine may have been lost from this weekend’s 100th clash between the All Blacks and Springboks following the latter’s poor performances over the past two weeks, but All Blacks head coach Ian Foster isn’t expecting anything but the best from his side’s old rivals on Saturday.
Having not played test rugby since claiming the World Cup in 2019, the Springboks have had a somewhat slow start to the year. After dropping the opening game of the British and Irish Lions series, the Boks bounced back to record back-to-back wins over the tourists in two of the least expansive test matches of the modern era.
A series win is a series win, however, and the Springboks entered the Rugby Championship with confidence high and quickly set about dismantling the Pumas over two weekends in late August, before heading to Australia for the remainder of the competition.
After leaving two weeks of mandatory quarantine, however, South Africa were comfortably accounted for by the Wallabies, going down 28-26 and 30-17 over successive weekends.
They now enter their historic match with the All Blacks with somewhat of a dark cloud hovering over their heads – but Foster’s side are planning for the best kind of Springboks side, one that drains the life out of you and forces you into making error after error as they knock over kicks to keep the scoreboard ticking along.
“I think their goal will be to be ruthless and clinical,” Foster said after naming his line-up for Saturday’s clash. “They’re at their best when they play a pressure game against you, when they play a power game against you. And that’s not to say they can’t do other things, but I think that’s when they’re at their best.
“We’re sort of preparing for a team that’s been targeting this game and we’ll come out with that focus. We’ve got to make sure in those two aspects that we win that battle so it’s a great challenge for us.”
Despite their less-than-exceptional performances against the Wallabies, Foster expects the Springboks will be more than up for the fight between the two top-ranked sides in the world at present, especially given the experience in their line-up, and the All Blacks have prepared accordingly.
“I can only plan and expect them to be at their best,” he said. “I think we’ve seen signs of that through the Lions series and I know we use the word ‘dire’ and all that sort of stuff for that series but let’s face it, it’s always a big series, it’s a pinnacle event and they won it. The style of the win was probably irrelevant in many ways in those sorts of series. We’ve got to give them credit for that.
“They’ve looked a little bit flat since then but they’ve come out of quarantine and played a fast team that’s really gone at them. I think they’re very experienced. We’re expecting them to have learnt a lot the last two weeks and there’s a lot on the line for them and there’s a lot on the line for us. Both teams need to be at their best so that’s what we’re preparing for.”
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After besting the Springboks in the pool stages of the 2019 World Cup, winning 23-13 in Yokohama, the All Blacks were knocked out of the competition by England at the semi-final stages while South Africa eventually emerged as world champions.
Factor in the successful Lions series win and Foster says regardless of the past two weeks, this Springboks side is the best yard-stick for assessing the All Blacks’ current standing in the world.
“If you look back at the last two or three years and if you ignore the last couple of weeks for South Africa, they’ve earned the titles they’ve got and they haven’t done that just by playing a style no one likes, they’ve done it by being really efficient and they’ve nailed the game that they want to play,” said Foster. “They earned all the rewards they got at the World Cup for doing that and so, for us, it is a big test.
“It’s a chance to actually measure ourselves against a team that has earned their reputation by delivering week-in, week-out, in some big games. And if you go back to our last few games in 18 and 19, there’ve been some really tight battles so we’re expecting that. But we’re not worried about that, we’re excited by that.”
While the Springboks have made just two changes to the run-on side that were well-beaten by the Wallabies in Brisbane last weekend, Foster has heavily rotated his squad to bring in a number of experienced players.
Saturday’s test kicks off at 5:05pm AEST.
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