All Blacks: Stodgy Boks set up selection puzzle

By Wynne Gray

The Springboks will look to bounce back against the All Blacks on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images
The Springboks will look to bounce back against the All Blacks on Saturday. Photo / Getty Images

All the headline players delivered for the Wallabies on Saturday night and details of that match will have been downloaded by the All Black computer crews.

Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane, Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor and Co whizzed around Sydney making a mess of their stolid Springbok foes.

It was the response the Wallabies needed after their tepid work against Samoa, now the hype will be about the threat of the Wallabies backline panache against the All Blacks. That match is a fortnight down the track at Eden Park, with an interlude coming in Wellington this weekend against the Springboks.

So while game plans and selections will be under consideration for the assault from the Wallabies, the immediate focus is starting the Tri-Nations strongly this Saturday.

What did we learn about the Boks who have left 21 of their frontliners at home? We saw they were outduelled by the Wallaby scrum, that their lineout without Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha or Andries Bekker is sketchy, so their loosies were fractured.

With a motley platform up front, the backs were in trouble.

They are limited by Morne Steyn's sit-in-the-pocket-kicking approach at first five-eighth, but when Patrick Lambie plays he brings more sting.

The wings have some real gas and Gio Aplon is an extraordinary talent at fullback, but they received no possession of any quality to work with.

Up front, the Springboks are stodge. How the Wallabies exploited that.

Genia worked the shortside like it was the only piece of real estate at the park. He squeezed teammates and plays down the blind, punishing a lack of defensive athleticism from the Springboks' tight five.

Crisp passing and straight running from the Wallabies created havoc even in those narrow confines.

It was a brilliant example of strategy and technique, showing how brains beats brawn; skill and subtlety overcomes brutality.

The Wallaby tight five are no worldbeaters, but they set the platform at scrum and lineout and showed out more around the track. Sekope Kepu made one memorable cover tackle, Stephen Moore whizzed over running a great line, Ben Alexander surged in for a try while Rob Simons and James Horwill motored around.

Meanwhile the Boks front five was as pedestrian as their skipper John Smit. Without quality men around him like Matfield, Botha, The Beast, Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies and company, Smit did little more than lead his side on the field and in the national anthem.

His redoubtable leadership qualities are blunted without some quality henchmen. Any venom left in Smit is patchy and this Bok tight five is fragile in many areas.

For the All Black panel, their questions will be about the wisdom of putting out a side this week which is similar to the one which began against Fiji. That would have a two-fold advantage.

It would give those combinations a repeat chance against a stronger opposition and allow topliners like Kieran Read, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks and Keven Mealamu another week to refuel for the challenges ahead.

The balance the selectors will be gauging is whether that group will be best-prepared then to come into the Bledisloe Cup against the Wallabies at Eden Park.

Those are the selection puzzles they will ponder and whether more rest, a start or compromise cameos from the bench is the best formula.

Whatever the decisions it is hard to see the Springboks getting one past the All Blacks. Mind you, a similar feeling surrounded the 1998 meeting in Wellington. But the Boks that day were unified and had quality across the park while the All Blacks were starting to drift. Those characteristics have been reversed as the Tri-Nations this week makes its first appearance on these shores for 2011.

- NZ Herald

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