The All Blacks face their ultimate challenge in South Africa, with the potential to create legendary players. This is according to Nick Evans.
Reworded: For the past 100 years, the true gauge of the All Blacks’ success has been their performance against South Africa. This has always been considered the ultimate challenge and I still remember the 1996 tour when New Zealand achieved their first series victory in South Africa. Despite any changes, the absence of South African teams in Super Rugby only adds to the significance of this rivalry.
In conversations with individuals in my home country, there is a strong belief that New Zealand has the ability to defeat South Africa once more. Just 18 months ago, the team was struggling and there were demands for Ian Foster to be fired and for Scott Robertson to take over. However, the coaching staff remained committed to their values, the players have delivered impressive performances, and it has come together at the perfect moment.
If New Zealand were to win on Saturday, it would be a triumphant moment for Foster, ending his coaching career with a World Cup victory. Unlike other countries with royal figures, our national icons are the All Blacks, known as the Invincibles since 1924-25. Kiwi men are compared to the legendary Dave Gallaher and his Originals team from 1906.
In order for new players to become heroes, the All Blacks must be able to match the physicality that England displayed in the semi-final. This proved to be a challenge for South Africa, but ultimately the Springboks’ use of their bench players gave them an advantage and I believe this will be crucial again. While I have faith that the All Blacks can keep up with South Africa’s physicality for the beginning of the game, my concern is whether they can maintain it for the entire 80 minutes once the Springboks bring in their seven forwards from the bench.
I am confident that New Zealand will aim to begin the game with a strong start. They will focus on their physicality and ball movement in order to bring a speed and tempo that has not been seen from them in the tournament so far. The aerial battle and transitions will be crucial, and they will try to inject pace into the game through quick taps and lineouts. This strategy will help them counter the physicality of South Africa and move their large pack around the field.
It would not be surprising if New Zealand has a strategy to exploit South Africa’s weak spot. In order to do so effectively, it is crucial to have a quick ball and generate rucks that last less than two seconds. This puts pressure on South Africa’s defensive line, making it difficult for them to get up and back in position. As a result, New Zealand can play closer to the line and gain an advantage. This can cause gaps in South Africa’s defense, giving New Zealand the opportunity to attack. They will be aggressive, aiming to create fast ball and target vulnerabilities in the middle of the field. By playing over or around rather than across, they can further expose South Africa’s edge.
We can expect to see a considerable number of aggressive kicks from Richie Mo’unga, Beauden and Jordie Barrett, as they aim to find their wings and create openings on the field. They will not want the South African forwards to remain stationary in the center of the field, constantly getting up and making tackles. Instead, New Zealand will need to keep them on the move, utilizing their kicking game to play in a north-south direction and shifting the ball east-west to reach the edges. By keeping South Africa out of their comfort zone in the middle of the field, New Zealand can tire them out and take advantage of their defensive line speed and vulnerable edges.
I anticipate that we will witness the successful execution of those kick passes by New Zealand and the use of chips over the top to slow down the opposing team’s defensive line. It may even result in Faf de Klerk having to drop back and give New Zealand an advantage. This game will not be one that the All Blacks can gradually ease into and rely on their ability to pull ahead after 60 minutes, as they have done in the past. However, if they can make South Africa play catch-up and force them out of their comfort zone, then the All Blacks have a real opportunity to regain possession of the trophy.