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'That there makes me nervous': Ex-All Blacks worried about fronting up at set-piece time

By Sam Smith
The loss to Ireland represented Sam Whitelock's first as captain. (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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The All Blacks will have to improve their set-piece execution against the Springboks if they are any chance at Mbombela Stadium according to two former All Blacks.

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The Springboks lineout operated at 95 per cent against Wales while the All Blacks were at 81 per cent against Ireland, a significant difference in efficiency heading into the two-match stretch.

Former All Blacks Jeff Wilson and Mils Muliaina discussed their areas of concern for the All Blacks on Sky Sport NZ’s The Breakdown, with the former Blues fullback ‘nervous’ about the prospects against the Bok pack at the set-piece, which has traditionally been a strength of the South Africans.

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“Don’t talk about set-piece, because that there makes me nervous,” Muliaina said.

“You only have to look back to the first test [last year] to see what the Springboks did. What they used, their driving mauls from the lineout.”

In the first test in Townsville last year, the All Blacks attempted to maul over the South African pack from many lineout opportunities but were unable to convert any into tries.

The Springboks’ defence dismantled their maul and drove them over the sidelines on multiple occasions.

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Ex-All Black wing Wilson said he was intrigue with the re-call of Highlanders blindside Shannon Frizell, who could offer help in the physicality department and bolster the lineout options.

“The blindside flanker thing for me is fascinating, Scott Barrett was the first choice, picked up an injury and couldn’t play the third test,” Wilson said.

“Akira Ioane showed some signs in the third test against Ireland, but Shannon Frizell, a lineout option, carries the ball hard, that make up of our forward pack, and particularly at lock.

“Then we’ll have to trust Tupou Vaa’i with Sam Whitelock against the Springboks, is that the future?”

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“I think Frizell brings something. The lineout is going to be the killer,” Muliaina responded.

“That’s going to be a place they have to really attack, instead of trying to absorb it. How do they do that? Well, perhaps sending someone like Frizell in who can bring a bit of physicality.”

Defensively, South Africa only conceded seven line breaks in their series against Wales versus the 20 that the All Blacks gave up to Ireland highlighting the need for improvement across the board.

Mils Muliaina backed the ability of the players available and highlighted the need to win the first test otherwise they face a ‘very long tour’ if they are unable to start fast with a win.

“If I look at our players, I’ve got full confidence in the X-factor players we have got. There is no doubt in my mind that we have got the players to be world champions,” he said.

“It is how they go about playing. What have they gone away and changed over the last couple of weeks to really simplify their game plan and get on the same page.

“We saw that against the Irish, they looked all over the place, they looked confused.

“Has Ian Foster said ‘this is now how we are going to play’ and got the backing [from the players] of the game plan and the style they want to play in South Africa.

“If they don’t win that first one, for me really, it’s going to be a very long tour. That second one is going to be a hard one to pick up.”

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Wilson said that with the departure of the assistant coaches, Ian Foster has near total control over the selections with input from Joe Schmidt expected.

That would give the embattled head coach the opportunity to ‘ride or die’ with players of his choosing, leaving few excuses if they cannot turn results around.

“The moment they let John Plumtree go out of the building, that was a selector gone,” Wilson said.

“My understanding is that Ian Foster, with advice and support from Joe Schmidt, are the two that are actually picking this side to play South Africa.

“It was always going to be difficult to bring Jason Ryan into this environment and go ‘look, can you pick the team as well?’.

“I think this is going to be Ian Foster’s team. The one that is going to perform and help him survive.

“He’s got to decide which of the guys are for me now, the guys that he’s going to trust the next 15 months if he’s going to be the All Black coach.

“I like the fact that if he goes down, he’s picking the 23 guys to determine his future.”

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