All Blacks v Springboks: The series fans are really salivating for
SPOTLIGHT: Crusaders scrumhalf Bryn Hall says the All Blacks need to front up in two key areas of their game if they are to defeat the high-flying Springboks next month.
After a two-year absence from the international game – amid concerns regarding COVID-19 – the Springboks backed up their 2019 World Cup triumph with a Test series win over the British and Irish Lions over the weekend.
Their status as World Cup champions, World Rugby’s top-ranked side and the first team to defeat the British and Irish Lions in a Test series in 12 years leaves them as the team to beat on the international stage.
It also sets up a tantalising return to the Rugby Championship for the South Africans after they dropped out of the competition last year in the midst of the global pandemic.
The Springboks, who won the truncated 2019 edition of the Rugby Championship in their last tournament appearance, will mark their return to the competition this weekend when they host Argentina in Port Elizabeth.
The headline acts of this year’s Rugby Championship, though, are the back-to-back clashes between the All Blacks and Springboks scheduled to be played in Dunedin and Auckland in September and October.
Those matches will be the first contests between the traditional rivals since 2019, when the All Blacks and Springboks drew 16-all in the Rugby Championship before the Kiwis beat the South Africans 23-13 in the pool stages of the World Cup.
However, given South Africa’s recent successes, the Springboks may fancy their chances heading into their upcoming matches against the All Blacks in what promises to be a pair of box office encounters.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Hall highlighted two key areas the Springboks will look to take advantage of against the All Blacks as they aim to extend their unbeaten run on Kiwi soil to three straight matches.
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One of those key areas, Hall said, is the aerial contest, which was a big sticking point throughout the Lions series, while the other is the battle at the breakdown.
The three-time Super Rugby and two-time Super Rugby Aotearoa champion scrumhalf suggested that South Africa’s big, heavy forward pack are capable of slowing the opposition’s ball down at the ruck.
That, he said, nips the opposition’s attack at the bud and allows the South African defensive line to get set and provide line speed pressure that nullifies an already stagnant attacking line.
Hall added the precision of South Africa’s box kicking and their efficient escorting ability proved to be key in their series success over the Lions.
“Two things that they [the Springboks] would probably have to nail is obviously the aerial battle,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“You see, in the Lions series, they were really good at the kick execution, and then flooding the rucks to be able to slow down the ball for then their line to get set and get width and then to bring that line speed pressure.
“Especially with the big, physical men that they have, they have the ability to slow down the ball and, in turn, set up the Lions to not be able to play, and then to be able to execute with their box kicks.
“So, I think it’s going to be really important, our attack off their kick escorts and being able to escort right to get our guys an opportunity to win the ball, and our attack off that, and then I just think our breakdown is going to be massive.”
Hall made note of how the All Blacks thrived during their 33-25 Bledisloe Cup win over the Wallabies over the weekend when they were able to gain ascendency up front through dominant ball carries and effective breakdown play.
“If you look around the weekend, when we’re playing well and we’re playing on top of teams, when we did score our points, we were going through them with boys going through, good footwork, going through them, really good cleans, and then quick ball for Nuggy [Aaron Smith] to be able to play on top of them.”
However, the 29-year-old also acknowledged how the All Blacks have failed in that area since the last World Cup as he pinpointed their inability to win the breakdown battle as the key reason behind their losses to the Wallabies and Los Pumas last year.
While the All Blacks remain undefeated this year, they have again encountered problems at the breakdown over the past few weeks, most notably in the first test against Fiji last month.
Hall said those shortcomings on the physicality front need to be addressed if the All Blacks are to defeat the Springboks.
“If we don’t get that right, and we saw scenes of that last year with Argentina and Australia in the test matches that we did lose, we lost that breakdown battle,” he told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“So, if you’re the South Africans, you’re probably thinking, ‘If we can nail that physicality battle’, knowing that us Kiwis want to play a little bit more, then we’re going to fall back into their trap of some of the things that the Lions did … and then the South Africans were able to pounce on that.”
Ex-All Blacks hooker James Parsons added the New Zealanders will need to find a way to negate South Africa’s defensive line speed.
The former two-test international suggested attacking kicks and taking advantage of the experimental 50/22 law could prove to be valuable assets for the All Blacks against the Springboks.
Parsons also highlighted Springboks midfielder Lukhanyo Am as a particularly astute defender who could deny the All Blacks space out wide to attack from.
“I think they [the All Blacks] would have to work out how they can manipulate their D [the Springboks’ defence], work out how they can manipulate their D, change their D to work on their terms,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“Whether it was attacking kicks or utilising this new 50/22 or somehow making their rush D have to adjust.
“It could be a classic chip and chase with Richie [Mo’unga] or Beady [Beauden Barrett] in behind, because there is a bit of space in behind there.
“Not over there [in the outside channels], because … Am is quite good at covering both and getting back, but there could be some space in behind there [the defensive line].
“It would be that balance of attack and run and kick and how you manipulate their D to open up opportunities for yourself on attack.”
By Alex McLeod, RugbyPass