Rugby: Stadium shift will help All Blacks, says Mains

By Wynne Gray

South Africa fans at Ellis Park stadium. Photo / Getty Images
South Africa fans at Ellis Park stadium. Photo / Getty Images

Johannesburg jinx? A Highveld hoodoo? Whatever the reason, All Black results have not been flash in the city of gold since rugby hostilities resumed there with the Springboks 18 years ago.

The Boks had a decade-long losing streak in New Zealand until 2008 and the All Blacks last won in Johannesburg in 1997.

That triumph came as Carlos Spencer kicked enough points on top of a superb two-try game from Frank Bunce to out-duel Bok marksman Jannie de Beer.

The All Blacks have played just twice since at the Ellis Park cauldron (2000 and 2004) and lost both clashes.

They are back in Johannesburg this week but headed for a duel with the Boks at the 94,000-capacity Soccer City Stadium in Soweto, the original acronym for the South West Townships area populated mostly by African goldmine workers.

That shift will help the All Blacks, according to Laurie Mains, who coached them in 1992 and the epic 1995 World Cup final in Johannesburg.

"It will take away a significant psychological advantage the Springboks normally have. Playing at the soccer stadium is not a neutral venue but it will not be as intimidating as Ellis Park can be."

Mains said the fervour of South African crowds was an issue and, no matter how prepared teams were, playing at altitude was also a factor.

"The 10 minutes before halftime and the last 20 minutes knocks you back 10 per cent and that's what makes it so hard to keep the intensity and tempo up. Lack of oxygen also tends to create more mistakes and teams' skills are not so good because of it."

The difference was not as marked as in amateur rugby times but it was enough to lose teams their edge and could be a factor in the outcome.

If the All Blacks played to the form line they had shown this season, they could still win because the Springboks were in disarray this season.

"They are just not the unified team they were last year and there are a few of them who seem to be on different pages and that makes them very beatable. I think the All Blacks, if they stick to their game plan, but wisely conserve their energy, they can win."

- NZ Herald

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