Among his effusive praise for the All Blacks, Springbok coach Allister Coetzee noted that the world champions are, at present, ‘vulnerable’ despite winning their first three Rugby Championship matches.
So, where are the All Black weaknesses the Springboks will seek to exploit this Saturday?
1. A weakened front row
After a seemingly endless sequence of Tests with Joe Moody and Owen Franks bookending the front row, suddenly both props are injured with Moody’s dislocated shoulder likely to rule him out for the rest of the season.
With Charlie Faumuina now on European shores, Hansen will have to turn to veteran Wyatt Crockett, the inexperienced Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu’ungafasi and has recalled Highlander Kane Hames as injury cover.
For Moody, the injury is a particularly cruel blow as he was in career-best form, dominating the scrums and showing power and pace around the field.
The fearsome Tendai ‘The Beast’ Tendai Mtawarira, along with dynamic hooker Malcolm Marx are world class, but the Springboks were forced to find injury cover themselves after Coenie Oosthuizen suffered a broken arm against the Wallabies. Despite this, the Boks still hold a slight advantage in the small numbers.
2. High-ball horrors
The best periods for the Argentinians against the All Blacks were before and after half-time. During that time, they had some success putting up contestable high kicks targeting, in particular, the pint-sized full-back Damian McKenzie.
McKenzie defused the first few which came his way, but when he had less time to position himself and with more Pumas around him, turnovers ensued.
No-one enjoys the Garryowen more than the Springboks, and although fly-half Elton Jantjies has many more strings to his bow, expect the South Africans to revert to type on Saturday.
3. Rush defence on Barrett
The Lions did it and it worked a charm. The Wallabies and Pumas had mixed success with it.
Teams employing rush defence have swarmed over Beauden Barrett, giving him less space and time to express himself and increasing the pressure on high speed passes.
He responded with chip and stab kicks, with mixed success and while Barrett’s skill means that these options are not unlikely to succeed, they are high-risk, low probability options.
Barrett will enjoy the extra pace on the delivery from the returning Aaron Smith, but it seems it is the All Blacks’ turn to move now that teams have found a formula to deal with the Barrett menace.
Steve Hansen has either been unwilling or unable to have a consistent starting 15 in the Rugby Championship.
His hand has been forced at times with injuries, but he has also rotated out some of his in-form players like Rieko Ioane.
This lack of consistency in selection is one factor behind the All Blacks showing less cohesion than they did last season, and while it has not hurt the All Blacks so far in terms of results, the pressure will be a notch or two higher against the resurgent Springboks.
5. Not converted on Barrett’s kicking
As Steve Hansen remarked, no one seems to comment on the days when Beauden Barrett wins games with his place-kicking, such as the second Test against the Wallabies in Dunedin.
Barrett seems to kick well in dry, still conditions like the Highlander’s indoor stadium and less so in wet, dewy or windy conditions.
His stab-like kicking style is prone to slices with a wet ball and if Damian McKenzie starts against the Springboks, he may well be in line to take on kicking duties should Barrett’s radar be off.
Elton Jantjies kicked at 82% in the draw against the Wallabies, and seems to have tamed his own goal kicking demons this season as he was easily the highest scorer in the Super Rugby season and then had a run of five Tests in which he scored 15 points or more.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: aaron smith, all black coach steve hansen, Allister Coetzee, beauden barrett, Damian McKenzie, Joe Moody, malcolm marx, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Owen Franks, south africa rugby, springboks, Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa), Wyatt Crockett