26 Oct 2015

The heavyweights square off

12:43 pm on 26 October 2015

OPINION: The All Blacks are heading into another chapter of international rugby's book of pain: a test match against the Springboks.

The All Blacks perform the haka before their RWC match against France in Cardiff.

The All Blacks perform the haka before their RWC match against France in Cardiff. Photo: Photosport

Over the last 96 years, these two bullies of the schoolyard have taken turns smacking each other in the face.

As far as World Cups go, we've played each other in one final, one quarter final and a third place playoff.

The stakes are high in this one. The Boks come in with a scratchy yet deserved win over the Welsh, while the All Blacks dealt the French an apocalyptic demise to their World Cup campaign.

Sam Whitelock during the All Blacks v France quarter final.

Sam Whitelock during the All Blacks v France quarter final. Photo: Photosport

Right now the Springboks look a million miles away from the team that lost to Japan in their first game.

They've reverted to type, bullying the Scots, Samoans and Americans into yielding to their physical dominance.

They've done so by punching the ball up the middle of the park, tiring out defences and opening up gaps out wide.

Springboks Frans Malherbe, Adriaan Strauss and Tendai Mtawarira train before facing the All Blacks in the RWC semi final.

Springboks Frans Malherbe, Adriaan Strauss and Tendai Mtawarira train before facing the All Blacks in the RWC semi final. Photo: Photosport

While the scoreline last weekend was a close 22-18 over Wales, the reality was it would have been a travesty if the Boks had lost.

They enjoyed an 80 percent territory and possession advantage in the second half and played all the rugby. The only reason they didn't put a couple more tries on were handling errors and a couple of silly penalties.

Victor Matfield during the Springboks training in Guilford, England.

Victor Matfield during the Springboks training. Photo: Photosport

Watching the All Blacks play these days harks back to another era, actually in a different sport.

St George, the famous rugby league club from Sydney, won 11 premierships in a row between 1956 and 1966, mostly by mastering defence.

League back in those days had no limit on the tackles, so it was very much a game of standing in a line and waiting for the other team to make a mistake.

This is very much how the All Blacks approach their gameplan these days.

The team spreads out, defends their gain line and only commits the bare minimum to each ruck.

Most of the time, that bare minimum is zero. Richie McCaw is given the role of going in and spoiling, possibly turning it over, while the rest sit back and wait for the next collision.

If McCaw does get the turnover, the All Blacks swing into action, punch through the midfield and link up with their outside backs to score.

"What the hell is Coles doing out on the wing?" - chances are if you've watched any of the All Blacks games recently you would have heard some muppet yelling that out at least three times a game.

So next time, turn around and say this: the All Blacks are employing a strategy of putting their weapons where they need them. Dane Coles is exceptionally fast for a hooker, so they use his speed out wide. He's not needed to hit rucks, no one is unless there's a chance of a turnover and that's not his job.

Centre Ma'a Nonu at a training session before semi-final against South Africa.

Ma'a Nonu warms up ahead of the semi-final against South Africa. Photo: Photosport

Key match up: The Springboks have a new, young, exciting midfield in Jesse Kriel and Damien de Allende. It'll be up to Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith to keep them under control, which is one thing they didn't do when the two sides last met at Ellis Park a few months ago. The All Blacks got out of Johannesburg with a win that day, but they can't afford to let those two cut loose again.

Prediction: This is it, as far as world rugby is concerned. The historic world heavyweight championship will be fought out in the scrums, lineouts and tackles that have made this rivalry so legendary. Right now the All Blacks have been accurate in all of these so far in the tournament; if they can keep that up they will have enough possession and firepower to burn the Boks out wide.

Score prediction: All Blacks 23 Springboks 16

How they line up:

All Blacks: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody. Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.

Springboks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench, 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Twickenham, London

Sunday 25th October (NZT)

4am kickoff

Changing Room Comment, by Jamie Wall

Jamie 'The Benchwarmer' Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

The Benchwarmer's Comment will run throughout the World Cup on radionz.co.nz.