All Blacks: Read relishes Republic test

By Gregor Paul

The Springboks have had no answer to Kieran Read's ability to run with the ball and link play. Photo / Getty Images
The Springboks have had no answer to Kieran Read's ability to run with the ball and link play. Photo / Getty Images

Aware now just what he brings to the All Blacks, the Springboks will have Kieran Read firmly in their sights in Soweto this week.

The All Black No8 was the surprise package of the first two tests in the series. He appeared everywhere, scored a crucial try, tackled anything that moved and destroyed the much vaunted Pierre Spies.

The Boks didn't see that coming. For Spies, there was the double indignity of being subbed in Wellington - he traipsed off, bruised and battered, his reputation in a similar state.

The Boks had come to intimidate, to smash the All Blacks into oblivion and yet they barely made a dent in Read.

They will be determined to get the job done properly this time. All Black coach Graham Henry is in no doubt about that.

"I think they will play with what has succeeded for them in the past," he said. "They will use the high ball, they will play for territory and they will basically try to beat us up."

Read knows what is coming. He knows how fired up the Boks will be and he knows that Spies has some ground to make up.

"I don't think he [Spies] played as well as he would have liked in New Zealand," says Read. "They are going to come at us and they are going to be determined to be a lot more accurate. But I don't think they can get too caught up in targeting individual players. I think it was our game plan that rocked them and we have to get that right again."

To strike the right tactical chord the All Blacks are taking note of the old saying of having fire in the blood and ice in the brain.

They left yesterday morning certain that if they get caught up fighting brawn with brawn instead of brain, they will lose.

The test in South Africa will be the All Blacks' toughest of the season - a rabid crowd in excess of 90,000, an angry, winless Bok team and the added complication of altitude.

What are the All Blacks to do? Can they persevere with what has worked so far, or will they tone things down; play to a slower tempo and obey the traditional concepts of possession and territory?

"We are certainly going to have to have a game plan that takes the altitude into consideration," says Henry.

"Obviously we can't run for 80 minutes the way we have. It's about striking the right balance. We can't get caught up in those physical exchanges."

Read and loose trio chums Richie McCaw and Jerome Kaino are going to be key to shifting the battleground to wider places.

Read excelled in the damage he caused in New Zealand by running in the wider channels and his ability to offload from the tackle.

While the All Blacks are unlikely to play at a deadly tempo for 80 minutes, what they will do is try to make lightning strikes through counter-attack and turnover ball.

That's where they lead the world, where the likes of Read come into their own, supporting the ball carrier and linking play.

The hidden challenge for the All Blacks will be dealing with the emotional intensity of the occasion. This is something that has overwhelmed them in the past - most notably in Johannesburg in 2004, when Nelson Mandela came on to the field before the game.

"We saw then how emotional everyone could become and what it did to the crowd and for their players. So we will talk about that during the week," says Henry.

"The other tough thing is that it is not an easy country to be in. We are conscious of security, that there is a lot of crime and you don't always feel comfortable in Johannesburg, so everyone has to make good decisions. It makes it hard to get away from the hotel and it can make for a long week.

"You also have a few physical challenges, as you can't really overdo it in training in a physical sense as it is only about the Thursday that the players are coming right."

None of this, however, is likely to affect Read, who says he relishes playing in the Republic.

"I do enjoy playing there. We play in the afternoon, so the ball is dry and the ground is hard and if you look at Super14 games played at altitude, they are usually high scoring.

"I think the crowd can be a motivating factor for us. I love having that noise and that intensity, as it lifts my game."

- Herald on Sunday

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