Fitzpatrick: 'South Africa haven't moved on from 2019'
All Black great Sean Fitzpatrick believes South Africa have failed to evolve their game since becoming World Champions in total contrast to New Zealand who are favourites heading into the 100th meeting between the two nations in Australia on Saturday.
The former All Blacks captain accepts the Springboks will raise their game after suffering successive Rugby Championship defeats to Australia and the hype that will surround the century of matches will ensure a titanic battle. However, Fitzpatrick is unimpressed by the Springboks continued reliance on a kick-chase tactical game which was good enough to beat the British and Irish Lions and he also has a timely warning for France who are favourites to lift the World Cup they stage in 2023.
Fitzpatrick said: “I don’t think South Africa have moved on from 2019 yet and they need to change. The All Blacks evolve so that when everyone else catches up they then take it to another level in terms of attack. The All Blacks have developed nicely after the disappointment of last year and there are new names coming through with a real depth in leadership which is great to see.
“The Springboks did enough against the British and Irish Lions who took them on physically and they were never going to win that battle and I was disappointed in that series on a number of fronts. With due respect to Australia, the Springboks will lift their intensity playing the All Blacks.
“If you only focus on international rugby then you are not going to develop any talent coming through and the guys in the All Blacks know that if they don’t play well for Auckland or the Crusaders they won’t get into the test side and that puts pressure perform for their clubs. It means when they do get selected for the All Blacks they go to another level. Beauden Barrett has taken a little while to get back up to speed but his performance last weekend was what we expect from him but that is also a result of the pressure coming from Richie Mo’unga and that is great for us. “
Fitzpatrick who won the first Rugby World Cup in a young All Blacks side that beat France in the 1987 final, has a warning for the French who are shaping up to be favourites to win the trophy for the first time on their own soil in two years time. Fitzpatrick said: “The World Cup is coming quickly and while people can talk about France having home advantage in 2023, it can be a hinderance as well. In 2011, there was a lot of pressure on the All Blacks at that tournament and whatever the pressure the French think there will be in 2023, it will two or three times more intense.”
In a 92-cap All Black career, which saw him captain his country 51 times, Fitzpatrick faced the Springboks 12 times and finished with nine wins, one draw and two defeats. One of the losses came in the 1995 World Cup final and that momentous match remains iconic in the history of the sport. While he would like to get that game “back”, Fitzpatrick prefers to concentrate on having lead the All Blacks to a first series win in South Africa in 1996.
He added: “There is one of those two defeats I had against the Springboks I would like back! It would have been nice to have that one in the locker but the games I remember as being the best would be in 1996 when we became the first All Blacks to win a series in South Africa. It was the first tour of the professional era and we took 36 players away and really targeted that series win. John Hart did a fantastic job after Laurie Mains had developed the team and guys like Christian Cullen came into the team.
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“Winning the series at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria was very special and as we came off the pitch Jonah Lomu and the guys who had not played did a Haka for us. That All Black pack wasn’t overly big but our generation would say it was the best rugby we played and we were the fittest and fastest we had ever been.
“To walk off the pitch and be hugged by Don Clarke, the great All Blacks full back, who was living in South Africa and hear him say “Thank you Sean for doing something no other All Black team has done – I can now die a happy man!” It was the high point of our careers and to be honest 1995 and the final wasn’t really spoken about.”
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