Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Boks beast lacking claws

South Africa may struggle to live with classy All Blacks.

Look through that Springbok side. Where have all their world-class players gone?

There are slim pickings these days, with Bryan Habana, Francois Louw, Eben Etzebeth and Adriaan Strauss raising their hands to be included in that category, although all four have waned in production this season.

Take the case of Etzebeth, a massive man, well over 2m and 120kg, with all the courage, power and athletic ability to be a force on the global stage.

He's a lock with a good blend of nasty and skill, and he's also young at 24, already capped 50 times and someone who promised great duels with Brodie Retallick.

Leg injuries have been Etzebeth's curse and he hasn't regained all the zing and menace which made him such a dangerous player. Maybe if it's a little damp for the test in Christchurch, that will suit him and his mates, but it may only prove to limit the All Blacks' winning margin.

Herald experts Gregor Paul and Patrick McKendry preview All Blacks v Springboks

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Rugby in South Africa is a much more complex beast than in any other nation.

Player quotas, provincial squabbling, financial issues, coaching styles, picking players from offshore, political intrusions - it is a great mish-mash of issues and it is a tribute to their renowned competitive instincts that the Boks do so well.

Look through their side and only three of the starting XV - Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk and Warren Whiteley - play their rugby for the Lions, who were such a bright spot and made it out of their Super Rugby conference to the final. They played a vibrant game where they used the ball rather than bodies to make space.

They had Malcolm Marx and Francois Mostert who cleared space, too, but it was not an unbreakable 80-minute devotion - they wanted to shift the ball away from contact as well where they could use some of their handling and attacking talent.

When the Boks jettisoned Heyneke Meyer after the 2015 World Cup and replaced him with Allister Coetzee, All Black coach Steve Hansen said he didn't envy his challenges.

It was tough enough coaching in New Zealand where everyone was working in the same direction but that was not the case in South Africa, where there were so many clauses, restrictions and codicils attached to the job.

That will not reduce the Boks' ferocity tomorrow in Christchurch. They began with the hammer down last week against the Wallabies and then melted, losing their way and the match. It was not a good entree for this week.

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The template might have suited but the execution was modest. It's been that way for most of the season. The Boks scraped to a 2-1 series win against Ireland, squared their Rugby Championship tests with the Pumas and then lost in Brisbane last week.

The problem is they are facing an All Black side in rare form with players who are heading for Hall of Fame votes. It's a side which has grabbed chunks of confidence in every outing this year, stayed largely injury-free and been given strong direction, as well as an expressive licence.

Right now, it is the All Blacks' turn to put most under the blowtorch and they have earned and learned that right.

A check of the records will demolish any overconfidence, with their last test against the Boks a tough two-point semifinal victory at the World Cup. There was a two-point loss in 2014 and the biggest winning margin since Hansen became coach has been 16 points. But right now, the All Blacks are soaring at a different level, while the Boks will be checking their flight times home to safety.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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