Have the Boks found a chink?

The South Africans gathered for an energetic training session on Tuesday, with an upbeat Gert Smal playing it cagey, but hinting that a winning game-plan was coming together for the Boks.

New Zealand are the world’s number one rugby team, but every suit of armour has a weak spot, and Smal said that he believed the Bok coaching team had found one.

“They are such a good side. They are not number one in the world for nothing,” he said.

“There are not a lot of weaknesses, but yes, we have looked at where they are weakest, and where their strengths are, and we have planned accordingly.”

Smal and his pack are likely to come under intense pressure on Saturday, with New Zealand picking their strongest scrummaging front row, including Anton Oliver.

Oliver’s opposite number and Bok captain John Smit is one of several injury clouds hanging over the team, with final calls on fitness to be made tomorrow, but Smal made it clear that Smit was a likely absentee.

“John is still struggling a little with that hamstring injury,” said Smal with a rueful look.

“All the players will be assessed and we will make a final call tomorrow. Juan (Smith) and Gurthro (Steenkamp) are making very good progress, much better than John.”

Indeed Juan Smith was notably present at training, albeit on the sideline.

Springbok training also revealed that if Smith doesn’t recover, Danie Roussouw is set to pack down on the side of the scrum as a replacement.

Meanwhile Bob Skinstad has been training at number eight with Pierre Spies running with the replacements, suggesting Spies’s conceded penalties may cost him a spot against the All Blacks.

Francois Steyn is also likely to replace Ashwin Willemse on the right wing.

In another twist, centre Jaque Fourie sat out training alongside Juan Smith. Whether Fourie is to miss out on Saturday is unknown, but Wynand Olivier was running on the outside centre.

But Smal, as the forwards coach, has his eye fixed firmly on attaining dominance upfront, and that is set to be a massive challenge for the Boks.

“I think that (the scrum) is where they want to attack and they are looking to Oliver to give a little edge there,” continued Smal on Saturday’s challenge.

“I think they are probably the best disciplined scrum in World rugby.”

That’s the scrum, but what of the line-outs? With New Zealand missing three, possibly four, of their first-choice locks and the Matfield-Botha combination firing on all cylinders, South Africa are almost under more pressure to perform than New Zealand.

“I think it is all perception that their line-outs are a weak spot,” said Smal.

“I think they play that area very well. They may not have a lot of variations, but we are very much aware of what they are going to throw at us.

“They are a clever team. They will always be able to manipulate certain things to get their way on the field.”

With both teams on the crest of a wave just two months before the Rugby World Cup in September, this game is likely to be a crucial step in determining just how far preparations have come since the start of the season.

“It is an important game for us, especially in terms of preparations towards the World Cup,” said Smal.

“But it is not a dress rehearsal for the final, a lot of water still needs to flow under the bridge until then.

“You can’t afford to let one game at this time of year destroy your World Cup aspirations. the World Cup will be a different campaign, win or lose.

“It will be a hard-fought traditional South Africa v New Zealand game.”

 

365 Digital

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