The All Black selectors have learnt their lesson. A draw is not a loss for the All Blacks but for South Africa it’s a win away from home and with it will come self-belief. They will be even harder to beat in Yokohama.
Steve Hansen is finally talking about the importance of combinations. My question to Steve would be: “Is there time?” With only three games to play before we meet the Bok again – Australia (twice) and Tonga (once) – we might be running short. If I was a betting man I’d put a lazy twenty on an All Black vs Springbok final. But for this to happen both teams will need to play three big ones in a row. That’s a tall order when we study recent form.
It has taken me a week to digest what happened at Westpac Stadium last Saturday. Courtenay Place was always going to be the same after midnight, but I awoke late on Sunday morning appreciating they were building depth in combinations. It’s why they left Ardie Savea and Sam Cane on the side-line and played the best first five in the world at fullback and the best fullback in the world at wing. The punt did not come off but we got out of it with a draw. It’s about as good a result as the selection deserved this close to the RWC.
I’m picking Mike Cron will now select his best front row and with Franks injured it will be interesting. We might see Nepo Laulala in the front row and Scott Barrett at lock. There has been talk everywhere about Read at blindside and this is so illogical it can only be a seed the selectors have planted for us all to get used to the idea before the announcement. There is no doubt Read is short of a gallop and needs to play if he is going to be a World Cup winning captain. Ardie and Sam are a great combination at the breakdown so there’s your openside and No. 8. They need to be the best in the world and this will be a good test as the Wallabies could compete for this accolade with Pocock and Hooper.
Several players have been tried in different positions primarily to build genuine test match depth to cover the inevitable injuries. We will see Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett as our strategic playmakers, Lienert-Brown and Goodhue in the centres, Ben Smith at fullback and high ball specialist Jordie Barrett on one wing with Ioane on the other.
Now I get it.
Dogs may bark but the caravan moves on.