The Springboks face a massive challenge come Saturday – taking on the best team on the planet on the biggest stage in rugby, but Heyneke Meyer’s troops have a chance to topple the tournament favourites by focusing on their own strengths and eliminating errors. Here’s five key areas the Boks need to focus on the ensure victory at Twickenham:
The Springboks have arguably the strongest maul in world rugby. For years, South African rugby has prided itself on its rolling maul off a lineout – a tactical move this current Springbok team have used numerous times to secure tries when defences are holding tight.
The All Blacks themselves have made great strides with their own mauls in recent years, but their defence against them hasn’t been water-tight. The Springboks can target this area of the All Blacks if the team is able to secure a lineout at least 5-10 metres from the New Zealand tryline.
Eliminating uncontested up-and-unders
While South Africa were victorious over Wales, a recurring problem which seemed to creep back into their game was that of aimless kicks. Both Fourie du Preez and Handré Pollard (while strong in other areas of their respective games) tended to put the ball into the air within 10m of the halfway line, with no wings or fullback chasing to contest and win the ball back. As expected, it resulted in a lot of turnover ball and lost possession.
The All Blacks will thrive off of this and won’t need a second invite to counter-attack from these turnover positions. New Zealand tend to run the ball following a possession-swap in open play, and with Ben Smith covering the kicks at fullback, it would be suicidal to opt for that game plan.
Every time the Springboks have beaten or closely threatened the All Blacks was when things opened up and the Boks took on the New Zealanders at their own game. We by no means imply that the Boks must run the ball at every chance they get (a platform and patience is needed to strike at the right time), but when the opportunity presents itself, the likes of Fourie du Preez and Willie le Roux will need to direct the attack to overlaps or gaps in the All Black defence.
Mismatches have appeared in recent encounters as some of the All Blacks’ front and second-rowers tend to hang out wide to attack the breakdown. This is when the Springboks’ speedy outside backs can exploit them as they have done over the past two years.
Make penalties count
An obvious one, but something that has plagued the Springboks decisions in the past. If the Boks are awarded penalties, kicks at goal need to be guaranteed, and Pollard and Patrick Lambie will have to ensure their shots split the uprights. Otherwise the Springboks need to look for field possession using the touchline and the strong driving maul. It’ll come down to the score difference and time on the clock, but the right high-pressure decisions will need to be made by captain Fourie du Preez and vice-captain Schalk Burger.
Suffocate Aaron Smith
While much talk is made about the loose forwards and wingers of the All Blacks, the real danger lies in scrumhalf Aaron Smith and flyhalf Daniel Carter. If they’re closed down and their time is limited, the rest of the team suffers, and by process of procedure, if you stop Smith, you stop Carter.
Aaron Smith was the deciding factor in the All Blacks’ opening World Cup battle against Argentina, and he has a knack to slip through gaps right by the rucks and find the tryline. The Springboks need to keep the defence around the breakdown tight and ensure he has no opportunities to snipe around the fringes.
At scrum time, Fourie du Preez is one of the best candidates to give Smith some grief and slow down the ball whenever he can, and the loose trio of Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, and Francois Louw can make Smith’s life even harder at the breakdown point.