Ben Smith: All Blacks 'C' team can kill Boks' World Cup dream in London
OPINION: Rugbypass writer Ben Smith shares his views on the World Cup warm-up match between All Blacks and Springboks at Twickenham on August 25.
The All Blacks’ undefeated streak extended to 11 when they claimed a 23-20 victory over the Wallabies via a long range penalty goal from Richie Mo’unga’s boot in Dunedin.
If they continue that run and beat the Springboks at Twickenham in their last warm-up game, they will likely have to continue their undefeated streak to 19 to win the Rugby World Cup.
The 25-all draw with England last year might be a blessing, as it rules out having to set a new winning streak record for a for tier one teams, which currently stands at 18.
The record for an undefeated streak of tier one Test matches is 23, achieved by New Zealand over 1987-90, which would not be under threat this year.
Whilst beating France in the opening pool game is not a pre-requisite to progressing, a loss in Paris to start pool play would be an undesired way to start a World Cup campaign. A loss significantly dents the chances of winning the tournament as history shows.
#ICYMI: Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has refuted any conspiracy theories doing the rounds regarding the composition of his 33-man World Cup squad. 👇#RWC2023 #SouthAfrica #Springboks https://t.co/odQWVnvWNR
— rugby365.com (@rugby365com) August 13, 2023
If there was a perfect time to take a loss, it would be now against the Springboks, in a meaningless exhibition match on the eve of the World Cup to reset mentally and start the campaign fresh on zero.
Filling Twickenham will fill the coffers but nothing else. There is nothing to be gained in this match from a competitive standpoint. Losing one or more central players to serious injury or suspension would be senseless.
Consider England, who will surely lose their captain and figurehead Owen Farrell to suspension after a red card in a warm-up fixture which will likely see him miss pool stage games.
What did he need to warm up for? Are the pool stage games not adequate enough for a 100-Test veteran to find some form?
The irony now is, should he be suspended for the entirety of the pool stages, he will walk into a crunch quarterfinal completely ‘cold’ having seen no game time for over a month.
Ardie Savea, all three Barrett brothers, Sam Whitelock, Rieko Ioane, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Will Jordan, Brodie Retallick should all be in stands in their number ones for the Twickenham fixture.
That list could be extended too many more undervalued players like Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tyrel Lomax, Shannon Frizell who have immense value in specific roles.
There are very few top-line starters that need game time to find form, with those that could do with the opportunity in the World Cup squad are slim.
There are returning players from injury who could do with starts, namely Crusaders Fletcher Newell and David Havili.
Then there are those that haven’t seen a lot of action like Anton Lienert-Brown, Cam Roigard and Luke Jacobson.
But that list is short.
The players who will have the most to gain from the Test are the ones left in New Zealand.
The chance to represent the All Blacks will mean more for them, with a hunger to wear the black jersey and the freedom mentally knowing they are not participating in the World Cup.
Some of the All Blacks XV players should be flown over to London for that game to fill the necessary gaps. It is a win-win situation for the All Blacks if they do.
If they lose, it will end the streak and reset the squad mentally while if a ‘C’ team does surprise and carve up the Boks, it would be two birds with one stone.
They will have preserved the front-line All Blacks while demoralising the Springboks.
To be humiliated in front of the English by an experimental team would effectively kill South Africa’s World Cup hopes before they even touch down in France.
There is no quick remedy for the psychological damage that will be done if they are laughed off the pitch by the Twickenham crowd.
Tortured souls do not go on to achieve greatness in the midst of despair, and subjecting any of their World Cup squad to that would come with disastrous consequences.
The All Blacks could very well play their best side and come away unscathed, but the outcome doesn’t minimise the foolish risk taken.
There is nothing to gain from the fixture from a playing perspective and as such appropriate measures should be taken.
Experimental All Black ‘C’ side: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown (captain), 12 David Havili, 11. Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Cam Roigard, 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Josh Lord, 3 Fletcher Newell, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Fergus Burke, 23 Ruben Love