The Springboks and All Blacks will be out for redemption in the fourth round of the Rugby Championship on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
After their shock first-ever defeat to Argentina on home soil last weekend, the pressure is back on Ian Foster and his charges and a bounce-back victory is non-negotiable in Hamilton.
Similarly, South Africa are feeling the heat and will be desperate to avoid a third consecutive loss when they take on the Wallabies in Sydney.
New Zealand v Argentina
Saturday, 3 September – 09:05
A perfect storm saw the Pumas seal their historic 25-18 victory over the All Blacks in Christchurch. A fluke it was not. It was built on a legendary defensive effort, one of the most heroic, masterfully-devised and disciplined collective displays ever.
On top of that, they feasted at the breakdown, with talismanic captain Julian Montoya leading the charge, and Emiliano Boffelli made the Kiwis pay with his flawless goal-kicking masterclass.
In a nutshell, the sides were separated by discipline and desire. Argentina, for once, controlled their aggression and also out-hungered the hosts, whereas New Zealand conceded 14 penalties, an unheard-of wrap-sheet for them, eight of which came in the first half.
Having said that, can all these stars align for a second week to see the surprise log leaders do the unthinkable again? It’s unlikely. The element of surprise is now lost, while the visitors will also be hurting after their relentless defensive effort. The system, implemented by new defence coach Dave Kidwell, is rock solid, but replicating the intensity and physicality over another 80 minutes is a massive ask.
On the flip side, the All Blacks are under immense pressure again, their 12-point triumph over the Springboks in Johannesburg proving a false dawn. As sticky as the situation is, there are three keys for them to turn things around in the rematch, namely composure, character, and patience.
Minimizing costly mistakes comes down to composure, with the majority of last weekend’s penalties – which cost them 18 points – coming from soft infringements (offside, side entry, and sealing off). That, in theory, is half the battle won as they ruled the roost in the scrums and lineouts.
Add more patience with ball in hand and cracks in the stone wall should emerge as the Pumas run out of puff. In what should be a cracker, the All Blacks should rebound and Argentina should cover the spread.
Argentina v South Africa
Saturday, 3 September 11:35
After the horror show in Adelaide, the Springbok management and players will be feeling the heat this week. Things have gone from bad – a 35-23 defeat to the All Blacks at Ellis Park – to worse as last weekend’s 25-17 loss was far more emphatic than the scoreline suggests, with 14 of those points coming via late consolation tries.
The sparkling 26-10 win over New Zealand in the tournament-opener in Nelspruit is now but a distant memory for the wobbling world champions, who find themselves at the bottom of the log.
Siya Kolisi and company can’t seem to kick the harmful habit of starting slow, finding themselves 10 points down after just seven minutes at the Adelaide Oval. The Wallabies continued to outwit them as well, a clever, well-executed kick-off up the middle allowing them to retain possession and set the tone for another frustrating afternoon Down Under for the Springboks, where they haven’t won in nine years.
Head-scratching selections predictably backfired and while the mass changes made to the team this week inspire hope of a turnaround from a South African perspective, they don’t necessarily wipe away wide-ranging problems such as tactical naivety, individual errors, capitalising on set-piece dominance, and an inability to convert try-scoring opportunities.
The breakdown is an area the Springboks will have to address after being blown out of the water last weekend. Fail to slow down the hosts and they’ll be on the back foot again. Tweaks that can be made in the space of a week relate to ball retention.
They coughed up an uncharacteristically high amount of balls, both in collisions and post-contact, and can remedy this through A, better positioning and B, sounder decision-making in terms of when to offload and when to rather set up the next phase. Expect such improvements from the Springboks.
More significantly, though, the men in green and gold are in a head space they thrive in. Traditionally, fighting spirit takes over and they produce when they have their backs against the wall as underdogs. On that basis alone, it’s not a bad shout to go with the Springboks, while the pack is also stronger this week.
However, cohesion is crucial and I sense there’ll be a serious lack thereof in the overhauled backline. Individually, Jaden Hendrikse and Damian Willemse are extremely talented young players, but it’s a massive ask of them, the former in his eighth Test and the latter in his first at flyhalf, to steer the ship after suddenly being thrown together for the first time.
Moreover, the absence of defensive organiser Lukhanyo Am is a massive blow and opens gaps at the best of times. With Jesse Kriel coming in at No 13 and Canan Moodie debuting outside him, the Wallabies will likely win the try count, so I’m tipping them to edge it.
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