Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: South Africa set for perfect storm

All Blacks form a huddle, during the New Zealand All Blacks team training session held at AMI Stadium, Christchurch, in preparation for the test against South Africa. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
All Blacks form a huddle, during the New Zealand All Blacks team training session held at AMI Stadium, Christchurch, in preparation for the test against South Africa. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

The reasons for the Springboks' recent malaise is no mystery. It's a perfect storm of player turnover following the World Cup, and a new coach who appears uncertain how he wants his team to play the game.

Hard questions will be asked if the All Blacks put a big score on them at AMI Stadium tomorrow night and, following consecutive losses to the Pumas and Wallabies, limiting the damage could be uppermost in the minds of even their staunchest supporters.

Because, unfortunately for the Boks and coach Allister Coetzee, uncertainty creates chaos at elite rugby level. That's why the All Blacks players are consistently referring to "clarity" in terms of their roles in the team and the game plan.

It's also why they train twice a day on a Thursday before a test, the first time as a practice for an afternoon session which is ramped up in terms of pace and intensity. Yes, they even train for their training sessions.

Watching and listening to Coetzee and experienced loose forward Francois Louw this week at their base in the west of Christchurch was to see and hear two men almost resigned to their fate.

They spoke eloquently, as Springboks coaches and players generally do about the game, and there was a conviction there to right some recent wrongs. But there was also general sense that they know the All Blacks are a long way ahead of them in every aspect.

The Boks are without 20 of their representatives from last year, whether through retirement or injury, and Coetzee himself brought up the gulf between the two nations in terms of experience and depth.

"If you look at our group from last year, from the 31, we have 11 remaining ... that's the reality," Coetzee said. "We're in that transition phase.

"If you look at the leadership and captaincy, for argument's sake, just to compare South Africa with New Zealand, when Richie [McCaw] stepped down it was seamless for Kieran Read to step into that position. They could have gone on to Sam Cane as well. When Jean de Villiers retired, also finished was Victor Matfield [and] Fourie du Preez and Schalk [Burger] is not available this year. Those are the core senior leaders we've had.

"We need experienced leaders to come through and that's part of the building process. They've got the continuity and the experience. If you look at their three No 10s, I see they have brought in [Lima] Sopoaga this week as well.

"Elton Jantjies is starting his sixth test, Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie are not available. That's the difference, but no excuses, definitely not. We have got the players and have trained well and hopefully we can execute the plan this weekend."

Going by Coetzee's comments, that plan does not appear to include expansive rugby, another sign the Boks may be content to hang in there against the All Blacks for as long as they can and hope they get the rub of the green late in the game.

"We saw against Argentina that they got off to a good start and they overplayed it a bit between the [two] 10m [lines] and eventually they ran out of gas. You need to know when to conserve energy, to be there right at the end. That's the approach. We have to make sure we have the possession to determine the pace of the game."

The Boks will probably go for a set piece, territory-based game. No frills. Unfortunately for them, the All Blacks' set-piece is up there with the best and kicking the ball will probably provide the in-form back three of Julian Savea, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg with more opportunities.

This may not end well for them. The perfect storm is set to rage on.

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