Former All Black coach John Mitchell believes the Springboks must target the All Black’s ‘tiny men’ in their back three, but if they get their accuracy of the kicking game wrong, it could be a costly mistake.
The Springboks face off with the All Blacks in their Castle Lager Rugby Championship game on Saturday morning (9.35am CAT, GMT+2) in a game that will be broadcast live on Supersport, and with the Boks still unbeaten this year in their tests, there is more than a glimmer of hope that they will surprise the old foe in this test match.
But there have been false dawns before for the Springboks, but the positivity around the Boks is a lot better than it was in recent years and with the All Blacks drawing their test series against the British and Irish Lions there is a sense that they may well be a bit vulnerable.
Mitchell, who is currently Director of Rugby at the Vodacom Bulls, but coached the All Blacks in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, believes the All Blacks are more vulnerable than before.
“I think we are seeing a fairly average Rugby Championship to be fair. I think all sides are in transition,” Mitchell explained, “We are two years our from a World Cup and I can’t say the rugby on the weekend was very exciting from both test matches.
“I think the Boks need to be careful about kicking away possession, but clearly that is a plan that Brendan Venter has styled from his football. The All Blacks will gamble, they will kick-counter a lot better than the Australians will, that’s for sure.
“The All Blacks also look vulnerable in certain aspects but knowing it is the old foe I am sure they will come in with a different focus.”
For Mitchell the key to winning the Albany battle is the kicking game as the All Blacks have a fairly small back three in Damian McKenzie, Nehe Milner-Skudder with Rieko Ioane making up the trio.
“If the Boks overkick through pressure, and give the All Blacks freedom in kick-counter you will see a different All Black side. But if the Boks have got an opportunity it is in this test match. The Lions proved that if you can slow down the All Blacks delivery at lineouts you will unsettle them.
“That is not the greatest of venues in the world, to put it mildly. I think the Springboks will be more excited to play there than the All Blacks,” he added.
One thing that the Boks need to do, according to Mitchell is not stifle Elton Jantjies. Contestable kicks need to come from nine – where Francois Hougaard is under pressure to give a better performance than in Perth – but Jantjies – in Mitchell’s estimation, needs to run the backline to attack the All Blacks head on.
“I think mentally and physically it has been a challenging year because it is such a draining test series. But if you look at the All Blacks legacy, it is that they have such great history and when you put that jersey on, you do not want to let down the predecessors of the past. It is that kind of community. Whoever gets the chance to represent the All Blacks, collectively they will buy-in. They understand the physicality of the Springboks and they understand how much the Springboks have improved.
“For me Elton looks like he is still stifled under the Springboks’ exit plan. So for me, you will still probably see more of the kick – I hope it is from 9 this week, creating contestable stuff on the All Blacks, versus the 10 kick down the channel. I think if they kick through 10 deep, that will just feed the All Blacks, but if they contest, once they slow it down from nine, McKenzie is a brave outside back, but he is tiny, so if you can bring him forward. Milner-Skudder is not also a tall outside back, when they used to have Dagg, Smith and Ioane – they were all tall catching wingers, and they were all selected because of that contestable kick. If I was the Boks, I’d be technically smart in that area and attack their small men.”
The Boks have lost nine of their last 10 outings against the All Blacks.