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This is not a dangerous All Black side for the Boks to 'watch out' for

By Ben Smith
(Photos by Phil Walter/Getty Images/Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images and Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images)

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The current form of the All Blacks suggests that they will be beaten in South Africa.

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Not demolished, but beaten in each of the tests where home advantage will play a part for the Springboks in what would be their first home victories over New Zealand since 2014.

You can’t logically pick the All Blacks on hopes and dreams of a fiery response just because their pride and egos have been hurt. If that mattered, they would have responded in the third test against Ireland after winning just one of the last four tests.

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They didn’t win simply because their execution is below par, while Ireland’s was superb, and that is the form they are bringing to South Africa.

The coaching staff has changed and the opponent has changed but the players haven’t. It remains to be seen how quickly the players can respond to new voices.

The Irish pack outworked, outplayed and out-thought New Zealand’s forwards, led by dismissed assistant coach John Plumtree, in the three-match series.

While Ireland have put together one of the best packs in the game, the manner in which their Kiwi counterparts crumbled across the second and third tests is of major concern.

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Ill-discipline, missed tackles, poor reads in defence, bad angles all over the park – the All Black forwards were not a polished unit. Hidden in the tape are the questionable efforts and decisions.

At times, they produced good plays in defence. Whether it was Akira Ioane or Ardie Savea driving an Irish ball carrier sideways or behind the gainline, they enforced themselves defensively in short bursts.

Then, all of a sudden, the line opened up all too easily after some smart play from Ireland and the All Blacks would be scrambling with the defensive system reeling. This was the case early in every test match.

The Springboks will not whip the ball from sideline to sideline with meticulously planned moves like Ireland, and in that sense, the defensive reads for the All Blacks will be much easier defending a one-dimensional attack.

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It will be as basic as see man with ball, hit man. When the Springboks backs try to play, the ball ends up on the floor or over the sideline more than coaches would like.

Stars like Cheslin Kolbe can pull off something brilliant as an individual when given half a chance, but ask them to put it all together as a unit and they tend to come up with rocks quite frequently, which is similar to these All Blacks.

The assignment ahead is brute physicality, yet the memories of Irish loose forwards regularly cutting through some feeble tackle attempts are still fresh. There is little confidence that the All Blacks will be able to hold ground against Bok carry after Bok carry for long.

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Wales faltered in their third test against South Africa, but they actually found a technical defensive solution in the first test to blunt the Springboks’ runners. It worked so well it is hard to understand why they didn’t continue it.

The surprise recall of Dan Lydiate tipped off what Wales would try to do. The man known as “The Chopper” for his grass-cutter tackles led the way for a Welsh pack that cut the Springboks down at the knees.

One-by-one, the Welsh pack courageously rushed forward and went low to chop South Africa’s ball runners in half. The nearest defenders wrapped the ball carrier up top and made a total mess of the carry and ensuing breakdown.

Although dangerous and putting one’s self in harm’s way, the commitment by the Welsh pack to attack low with chop tackles paid off as the Springboks ground game went nowhere and faltered behind the gain line for most of the day.

Eben Etzebeth had five or six carries for a net gain of one metre, if that. He was well and truly handled by a gritty and committed opposing pack that put one of the Boks’ best ball carriers on ice, and that is a rare occurrence.

In the third test, the Welsh tacklers went high and they were steamrolled as multiple tries were scored simply by running one-off carries.

Handre Pollard and Siya Kolisi were the beneficiaries and scored barge-over tries when the Welsh line could not take the punishment any longer.

The All Blacks pack rarely gang tackle and don’t work hard enough to swarm the ball carriers after the chop like Wales did in Bloemfontein, and to be brutally honest, don’t have the daring to go that low either.

It won’t be their thing, despite the tactic being a success early in the Springboks-Wales series.

 

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In addition to stopping big ball runners, the All Blacks will also have to perform well in the air.

If they can nail the Boks behind the gain line, the ball will be promptly sent to the heavens and that means Jordie Barrett has to step up and perform at the level he did last year under the high ball, which was exceptionally well.

This year there have been concerns in the aerial game: in the third test against Ireland, the All Blacks failed to secure the high ball regularly, whether it was a kick-chase or diffusing one on defence.

The Irish tactic of using the one-handed back-bat disrupted the catch zone often and was a smart tactic the All Blacks backfield did not find an answer for.

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The go-to for South Africa is clearly the rolling maul, which bailed them out in that first test against Wales, as it has on many other occasions.

The Irish mauled over the top of the All Blacks pack for two tries in Wellington, on the first maul attempt on both occasions.

The Springboks forwards will do the same if afforded the opportunity, and they likely will, based on the poor discipline demonstrated this season by the All Blacks.

New All Blacks forwards coach Jason Ryan will have to work magic in a short time to improve his pack’s efficiency across a broad range of areas, including the maul defence and discipline.

Milking penalties from the maul and scrum is South Africa’s plan A, B and all the way to Z. The All Blacks need solutions to stop the piggybacks occurring and head coach Ian Foster will be hopeful that Ryan has those answers.

If the All Blacks are ill-disciplined like they were against Ireland, the Springboks will play their set-piece-athon game without much fuss and will control proceedings and the clock.

They don’t need to be that good elsewhere, strength and power should be enough to get them home against an out-of-sorts All Blacks side with plenty of issues to get through.

The narrative this is a dangerous All Black side to watch out for because they are losing and hurting is total nonsense.

Will they be tough to play? Sure. They will fight hard as all All Blacks sides do. But will they be dangerous? The evidence says absolutely not.

A dangerous All Black side is one that is winning regularly and putting 40 points on opponents playing an attractive brand of attacking, clinical rugby that looks unstoppable.

They are clearly not that side. You couldn’t dream of a better time to play them over the last 20 years than right now when they are losing test matches left, right and centre with instability in the coaching staff.

Who would you rather play, a winning, in-form All Black side or a losing, out-of-sorts one?

The Springboks have two games at home and not only is two wins on offer, it is the probable outcome.

If they can’t beat the worst performing All Black side in 25 years in their own backyard for the first time since 2014, when will they?

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