The Springboks are at risk of a white wash (losing all 4 Tri-nation tests matches) for the first time in tri-nations history. Desperate times indeed and that might explain some of the selections for this match.
The teams for this match are:
15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Substitutes: 16 John Smit, Tendai Mtawarira, CJ van der Linde, Danie Rossouw, Ashley Johnson, Francois Hougaard, Butch James.
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Isaia Toeava, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Adam Thomson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Substitutes: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Cory Jane.
South Africa’s team selections might also have been inspired by a need to give some returning players (after injury) game time before the RWC.
Nevertheless, the 5/2 forwards/back split on the bench and the fact that Beast Mtawarira, John Smit and Danie Rossouw are starting off the bench might be indicative of South Africa’s game tactics or at least might be a refreshing new angle on an out-dated and way too predictable game plan and substitution policy.
Truth be told you don’t need to be a genius, oracle or octopus to predict how South Africa is going to play the game.
What I do find interesting is the fact that we see a deviation from normal policy to play returning players who need game time from the bench. Normally Petertjie will start with the inform players and only bring the ‘returning players’ on the field in the last 20 minutes or so.
Intriguing is the fact that John Smit and Beast Mtawarira starts off the bench while Alberts and Bismarch starts with Brüssow. Gurthro Steenkamp is clearly not going to last the match and neither are Alberts, Bakkies Botha and Jannie du Plessis.
There seems to be some strategy behind this and I would venture that the game plan is something along the following lines.
Looking at the bench I reckon we are going to try and keep it tight and play with the forwards.
If the game opens-up we’ll come second so we need to play a very structured game.
Keep it tight and start bringing fresh legs on in the tight five within the first 10 minutes of the second half. The fitter and more mobile props namely Beast Mwatirira and CJ van der Linde as well as the game fit Danie Rossouw and playmaker Ashley Johnston will be introduced in the last 40 minutes of the game when the All Blacks normally pick up the pace. The plan clearly, to use these substitutions to try and keep up with the pace of the game in the tight five and to try and maintain any form of control we might establish up-front. Mostly, I think, the idea is to keep the frontrow fresh so we can maintain a structured hold on the game in order to enforce a teritorrial type game plan and prevent the game from opening up.
Bismarck, Brüssow, Alberts, Bakkies Botha and Gurthro start to prevent the All Black from establishing early dominance at the breakdowns.
Bismarck and Brüssow are our best pilferers while Gurthro, Bakkies and Alberts normally do well in driving the attackers back in the tackle. If these guys do their bit we can prevent the All Blacks from getting flow and scoring some early tries.
Alberts and Bismarck (and Spies sometimes) are also good at taking the ball up and creating front foot ball. If we can force a few penalties in the first half and get Morné to kick a few drop goals while preventing the All Blacks from scoring tries by disrupting them at the breakdown we will be in with a change when the fresh legs come-up in the second stages of the second half.
Johnson, Danie Rossouw, CJ van der Linde, Hougaard, John Smit and Beast Mtiwarira can potentially make impact in the last 20 minutes and with Butch then on flyhalf we can ensure that the backline play flatter on the advantage line and more direct.
This approach also ensures maximizing leadership on the field in the last 20 minutes with Smit coming from the bench.
I am not sure if Petertjie actually planned it this way but the more I think about it the more I feel that this is an interesting even modestly refreshing variation on our normal team selections and substitution approach which might potentially impact positively on how the boks play on Saturday.
It is still the old game plan but with slight variation in cavelry?
Alberts, Bakkies, Gurthro, will be tasked to drive the AB’s back in the tackle while Bismarck and Brussow will try and steal the ball.
Stopping the All Black flow would be essential to achieve a win.
Other than that Gurthro, Bismarck, Spies and Alberts will be used as runners to set it up or to punch holes.
The Bokke have no choice, they will have to stick with what they’ve always done and try and find the players who can enforce their game plan effectively.
Changing the game plan now to try and beat the All Blacks with expansive rugby is absolute madness.
Best way to counter someone who is best with a particular style is to do the opposite.
Enforce a different rhythm or structure onto the match which will not allow the opponent to play the way in which he/she is best.
You can’t beat the best in the world with their own game. You need to throw them of balance and force them to play in a way in which you are better or that disallow them to play their natural game.
After having said all that I am not sure we can play in a way in which we are better than the All Blacks at the moment. Even if the play a 10-man type game they will probably still outplay us.
Our chances of beating them are however better, in my opinion, if we can prevent them from running with the ball.
We have the backs out wide in Pietersen, Lambie, Habana and Jaque Fourie to score tries but not enough structure at the breakdowns to play an expansive game.
Our ball retention, when we ruck it up and our ball handling skills in the backline have been absolutely horrible so far this Tri-Nations.
Last week against the Aussies we created try scoring opportunities but were not aggressive enough at the tackle area to benefit from our breakaways. Players try and pick the ball up instead of blowing over and clearing the defenders out. We will have to improve in this facet of the game if we want to score tries.
Our best chance in scoring tries, I believe, will be to use starter moves from set piece. Moves that involve Habana, Lambie, Alberts and Pietersen running onto the ball, like the try JP Pietersen scored against the Lions, from a lineout. Another option would be off-loads or quick pick-ups after punching holes with angled runners or pods. For instance use Alberts and Spies to punch the holes in channels 1 and 2 after set piece and then offload to Habana, Pietersen and/or Jaque Fourie coming though at speed.
We have the team to beat these All Blacks but lack proper coaching and I also believe our players are not fit. Some look genuinely overweight while others look extremely rusty.
Are these players still hungry enough to win a RWC? In the final analysis it is the players/team who wants it most, who lifts him/her/themselves emotionally to physically do whatever is required. We were hungry in 1995 and in 2007 after isolation and having done so badly in 1999 and 2003.
The current players have all already won the biggest crown in world rugby. Are they still hungry enough? Looking at the physique of some of the players I tend to see mostly a state of ‘overfedness’.