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Rugby | Springboks

Boks focus on blunting AB momentum



Springbok coach Allister Coetzee says that winning the gain-line and blunting the All Black momentum will be crucial to his team’s chances of winning what he has described their “toughest ever test match”.

The Boks were disappointed to draw against Australia in Perth last weekend but the result still means they are able to get to Albany, which is just north of the Auckland harbour bridge, unbeaten after six matches this year. That is better than every other top team on the planet, including New Zealand, who lost to the British and Irish Lions in the second test of the recent iconic series.

Coetzee says that the Boks have learned from the qualified success – they didn’t win the series, they just drew it – of the Lions, and he says gain-line dominance and defence will have to be massive ingredients if the Boks are to prevail in Saturday's must-win fourth round Castle Lager Rugby Championship fixture.

“The Lions were very strong on defence and they showed the importance of stopping the All Black momentum,” Coetzee said at the squad’s arrival press conference in Auckland.

“You have to win the gain-line battle and get an advantage there if you hope to beat the All Blacks. If you let the All Blacks get momentum, then it is eventually three against two, or two against one, and try time, and the series against the Lions emphasised that.

“The All Blacks run hard at you and you have to stop the momentum because if they get behind you they will eventually score.”

The Kiwis scored a lot against the Boks last year, Coetzee’s first season in charge. They won 41-13 on home soil and then went on a try scoring rampage in the second half of the Durban test last October to win 57-15, with the Boks being frankly fortunate to get 15. That translated to a whopping 98 points against 28 in New Zealand’s favour across the two test matches played in 2016.

But it is a different year and champion All Black lock Brodie Retallick has agreed with Coetzee’s contention that this is a very different Bok team to the one that performed abysmally in his first year in charge.

“We’ve all seen over the last few weeks how physical they are, particularly up front,” said Retallick.

Indeed, although they took a while to warm up at the NIB Stadium this last weekend, the Bok pack has stood back for no-one this year. The All Blacks forward unit, with several of the key components being bested against the Pumas last week, will though represent a different level of test for the Bok big men, which will make it important for what Coetzee describes as the grey areas to be sorted out.

Among those grey areas might be the decision making at the back, as well as the elementary error rate, with Elton Jantjies once again coming under pressure following a performance in Perth that included way too many mistakes that helped Australia compete. There is no doubt that Jantjies has the ability, sometimes it is just a question of consistency, and an away test against New Zealand is no better opportunity to prove that he can be relied upon.

Even an out of form Jantjies is a better bet than Morne Steyn, the veteran “safety net” who Coetzee turned to in the home leg of the Rugby Championship in 2016 but who left the Boks short of attacking dynamic and options in the Kings Park test where they were annihilated.

“We are very aware of how tough it is going to be against the All Blacks and we need no reminding of how we will be punished if we repeat the same kind of errors that cost us against the Wallabies,” said Coetzee.

“There are grey areas in our game that we have to clear up. They are decision making areas such as whether it is to gather kicks or run and kick. Whatever the case, we can’t give the All Blacks a choice on what to do with the possession. Because we know they will hurt you if you give them the ball and a choice of what to do with it.”

The Boks were reminded by the Perth match though of how much they can gain just by controlling possession. In the first half they didn’t have ball to play with and looked poor as a result, whereas in the second half when the pack came into its own it was a different story.

“The players are starting to make better decisions and you can only make better decisions if you are winning more ball,” said Coetzee.

“That is the prime message going to the players ahead of this match. It is quite simple really. If we don’t win possession we have no chance of dictating the game.”



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