Friday, 4 October 2013 00:00
The Boks will meet the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship decider against the Boks in Johannesburg. McCaw returns from injury to take over the Captaincy role for this vital encounter.
For record purposes McCaw’s return will mean that the number of Test caps in the starting XV increases to 729, making it the sixth most experienced side that the All Blacks have fielded. Midfielders Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu will start a Test together for the 51st time, setting a world record. They previously shared the record with the Irish combination of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.
All rugby enthusiasts are united in their opinion that Boks will mount a fierce challenge, as they still have a mathematical chance of winning the Championship. They are five points away from the unbeaten All Blacks, with their only loss coming in the defeat when the two sides met three weeks ago. Thus the Boks need to win with a bonus point, by scoring four tries, an effort that eluded them against a weakened Wallabies team last week. They must also ensure that the All Blacks don’t earn a bonus point, either by scoring four tries themselves or finishing within seven points of the hosts.
That is a tall ask and knowing the All Blacks they will ensure that the pressure of such combinations have an effect on the Boks style of play. As a result the All Blacks coach was on record to say that the requirement could force a different style of game on the Springboks: “We know the South Africans will come at us with their physical game but to win the Championship they will have to do that by scoring four tries so we are expecting more ball movement than we have seen in the past, so the answer is pretty simple for us – we will have to match their physicality and be very accurate with our execution across the park, both on attack and defensively.”
With so much at stake both camps will have their thinking caps on ready to pinpoint a weak link in the opposition and capitalise on the same. The team that can hold its nerve and convert territory and possession into points will obviously triumph. For too long the All Blacks have been masters at this and with the return of inspirational skipper McCaw, I can’t see the All Blacks getting this wrong.
In the other game, the Wallabies take on the Pumas with both teams fighting to move away from ending at the bottom of the heap. The Wallabies have had a forgettable tournament so far and will look to end on a high with a win. Will Genia has been rewarded for his robust performance against the Boks, with a slot in the starting line up.
Genia’s introduction saw a significant improvement in their attack. This then could mean that the Wallabies are planning to run the ball wide against the Pumas. This will in all probability bring fullback Israel Folau, into the reckoning as he has been the player amongst the backs who has shown the ability to score starting with the Test against the touring Lions in June.
Many have pointed out that Folau’s was wooed into this code of Rugby because of his ability to finish a move. In his NRL career with a high kick into the in-goal area it was a constant source of points. Whether Quade Cooper will attempt the same as he did so successfully last week, is left to be seen. Given the dismal run of the Wallabies thus far I am sure that they are about keen to try every trick in the book to secure a win.
Rugby is seldom without controversy. This time round Sir Graham Henry is in trouble for comments made about referees and the judicial panel in The Rugby Championship.
His remark that the officials have been “totally inconsistent” and “a weakness in the game” has not gone down too well. He also described as “madness” the decision to issue a yellow card to Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper for a tip tackle, saying referees appeared to be looking for excuses to award yellow cards beyond “the obvious”. This was also echoed by the former All Blacks scrum-half turned commentator Justin Marshall.
Sir Henry has already been sanctioned by SANZAR this season, for saying that television match official was “blind” after a Super Rugby game. At that stage he was forced to make a public apology and was told to refrain from making similar comments in future. Alas he has not heeded the words of wisdom from the powers that be.
(The writer can be reached via email@example.com.)