Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Baffling Bok side unlikely threat

Port Elizabeth with be more of a final Cup tryout than a test for the All Blacks. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Port Elizabeth with be more of a final Cup tryout than a test for the All Blacks. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Springboks continue to baffle and that confusion will soar this weekend if they beat the All Blacks.

That outcome in Port Elizabeth is unlikely, on the evidence of what the Boks' alternate side produced in Australia and New Zealand and what their frontliners generated against Australia yesterday in Durban.

From Peter de Villiers down, the World Cup champions seem agitated, uncertain and indecisive. Their common purpose is fragmented, their reliance on old-stagers more displaced as they muddle about with new talent like Patrick Lambie.

The most experienced Springbok side in history played with a lack of wit and clarity which should irritate even the most ardent one-eyed Bok apologists.

Sloppy substitutions towards the end, which allowed the Wallabies to monster the Bok scrum, were the nadir, an indictment of the tactical nous of de Villiers and co and a move which cost them the match.

None of my acquaintances would be mournful about the Boks' inadequacy but all would be curious about their decline.

How Lambie was overlooked yesterday was a mystery as Butch James went around and around at five-eighths and some hairy scrum-capped bloke touted to be Francois Steyn wore the fullback's uniform.

Confirmation that folly was rampant in the Boks set-up came with the switch of captain John Smit. He had to move when the impressive Bismarck du Plessis came on as hooker but he should have gone to the showers instead of tighthead prop.

As the wind and rain escalated, the Wallabies put the squeeze on the Bok scrum and earned a penalty to clinch the test. There's no doubt the Wallaby scrum has lifted this season but it remains a performance stain to be dispatched by that group.

James O'Connor kicked the goal and earlier the Justin Bieber look-alike created the game's solitary try which set the Wallabies on the way. His feint then pace confused the defenders enough to deliver Pat McCabe his first try for the Wallabies.

Now the Tri-Nations title will be decided in Brisbane on August 27 when the Wallabies host the All Blacks.

This weekend, the All Blacks step into action at Port Elizabeth as the selectors use this test as their final gauge on some World Cup contenders. They want to give men like Israel Dagg, Isaia Toeava and Richard Kahui a full World Cup audition and prop Tony Woodcock the stage to roadtest the leg injuries which have marred his rugby in the past three months.

There's also a guaranteed start for Colin Slade at five-eighths, an opportunity for Liam Messam to solidify or melt his World Cup claims and another chance for Jarrad Hoeata to confirm he's worthy of a tournament place if Anthony Boric doesn't recover from his foot injury.

The All Blacks' likely starting side will have 350 caps less experience than the team which clobbered the Wallabies at Eden Park. But Graham Henry and his selectors have pledged to give everyone in the extended 35-strong side they've used this year a chance to display their World Cup claims.

For some like Dagg, Toeava, Kahui and even late replacement loose forward Victor Vito, this Sunday at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will be their most important audition of the year.

- NZ Herald

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