Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Loe: ABs boxing clever in Soweto build-up

The Springboks are behind the All Blacks in the breakdown area now. Photo / Getty Images
The Springboks are behind the All Blacks in the breakdown area now. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks have been clever in their build-up to next weekend's test match against the Boks in Soweto - and they need to be.

The Boks will come at them very hard in front of 90,000 fans.

The All Blacks in the two tests in New Zealand didn't just surprise the Springboks, they shattered the image of them being the best team in the world, put a question mark next to the future of many players and will have made them question their whole approach to the game, only a year or so out from the World Cup.

Their response will be physical, committed and almost desperate.

But will it be enough? After the first test in New Zealand, most of us thought (I certainly did) the Boks would come back hard in the second test.

That they didn't succeed was down to the All Blacks playing with precision and just not allowing the Boks to play well.

There's an old saying that you can only play as well as the other mob let you.

Some coaches use that as an excuse at times but the real meaning is that if you retain possession, position and take your scoring chances, then the other side can't win.

The clever thing the All Blacks have done ahead of next week is to wind up the Boks a little, I think.

Graham Henry is saying he doesn't think the Boks will depart from their normal game plan - box kicking, high kicking, chasing, presenting a defensive wall and profiting from the opposition mistakes.

I think there's maybe a little bit of reverse psychology going on there. Henry knows the Boks will have had it stuffed down their throats that the game has moved on and left them behind.

He is maybe trying to provoke them into changing their game plan - so the All Blacks can profit.

There were three things that struck me from the first three Tri Nations tests. First, the Boks are well behind New Zealand and Australia at the breakdown, the key area of the game right now.

In days past, when you were tackled, you could hold the ball, wait for the ruck to form over you and even if you couldn't get it back to the halfback, a scrum would form with your put-in. In more recent times, the ball-carrier had to surrender the ball under certain conditions.

Now, the ball-carrier has more rights. The tackler can't contest possession as much and the ball-winning is done by the next people to arrive at the tackle area. That is what the Boks are not doing well.

The Wallabies and All Blacks are more skilled in this area - and even Robbie Deans complained about the All Blacks "slowing the ball down". What that really means is that the All Blacks are better at getting to the tackled ball, blowing over the ruck and making the ball their own. Turnovers are a key element in this modern game.

Unless the Boks have fixed this in the short time we last played them, they are less likely to beat the All Blacks, even with home advantage.

The second thing is that they need to tackle the ball-carrier better and lower them to the ground, like New Zealand and Australia do.

The Boks tend to tackle up high and wrestle, whereas the All Blacks seem to go high and low and get the ball-carrier on the deck, and then blow over the ruck.

Third, the All Blacks showed against Australia that they are honing their game. The all-out, counter-attack of the first two tests against the Boks was replaced by a second half of kicking low to unpopulated areas, for position, and backing that up with a smothering defence.

I wouldn't call it negative rugby - I thought it was a deliberate tactical ploy which will suit the All Blacks well, not just in the test next weekend but in the World Cup.

Changing our game was something we did not do well in 2007. It helps the All Blacks to learn how to play in the intense environment of a knockout tournament - learning how to close out a game against quality opposition.

It also plays the Boks' trump card back on them. We have got used to the likes of Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers scoring intercept tries after the Boks have squeezed the opposition.

This time, I think it might be the All Blacks applying the squeeze and, who knows, maybe they'll score the intercepts this time.

Kurtley Beale got one against them after a turnover ball last week - and I think the All Blacks are making sure they know how to protect themselves against that and against another team wresting the momentum away from them, as has happened at World Cups like 1999, 2003 and 2007.

I think they will try to attack at the beginning, get a good lead and then will settle into that same defensive pattern we saw against the Wallabies. That makes it very hard work for the opposition. They have to play catch-up, take risks and can be hit with sucker punches.

They could snap into defensive mode in the second half, after 20 minutes or 60 - it just depends on their lead.

While I, like everyone else, would like to see them annihilate the opposition with all-out, non-stop attacking play, I like the tactical thought that has gone into this and the idea of readying them for the World Cup as well.

- Herald on Sunday

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Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Wyllie Loe was a renowned All Black forward prop who plied his trade for the New Zealand national team between 1987 and 1995. Loe was well known by fans and team mates alike as an ‘enforcer’ on the pitch, a player who balanced his abilities with the ball with a tough-tackling prowess and a penchant for physicality. During an outstanding career Richard Loe represented his country of birth in no less than three World Cups, assisting the All Blacks to a famous victory in 1987. Along with fellow team mate and captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Loe formed one of the most formidable forward lines ever to lead the All Blacks. Despite his sometimes overly physical dominance on the pitch, Loe is regarded by former team mates as being an exceptional character and professional. Following retirement from rugby Loe became a sport columnist for the New Zealand Herald, a position he still holds today.

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