It has been a work in progress but the Boks seems to have finally found the best mix.
Mike Greenaway – The Star
At Thursday’s Springbok press conference, the verbal performances of the veteran second row pairing of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha epitomised why the Boks are going to be so difficult for the All Blacks to beat in Saturday’s Tri-Nations at Absa Stadium.
The artful Matfield spoke of lineout strategy and the nuances of working out the opposition’s throws; Botha, his partner in more than 50 Tests and many more matches for the Bulls, spoke of bludgeoning the opposition into submission.
In short, we have the balance between brain and brawn in this Springbok side, well articulated by two of the world’s leading forwards.
Matfield orchestrated four lineout steals for the Boks in Bloemfontein last week, while Botha spearheaded a physical charge that had the Kiwis on the back foot.
Interestingly, it has been intimated in New Zealand that the Boks used nefarious means to obtain the All Blacks’ lineout calls (spying at a training session), and this was put to Matfield by a visiting TV reporter, much to Matfield’s bemusement.
“Yes, we had a fair idea what they would do in their lineouts,” he said. “It was easy, and I take it as a nice compliment that someone thinks we had to steal the calls. But the explanation is that we studied their last three games and worked it out – it is as simple as that. I don’t know why we would need to go out and spy when we can just watch the TV.”
Matfield, renowned for the hours he puts into analysing the opposition, then twisted the knife when he added: “At the Bulls, every session of ours is open and there is a restaurant next to the training field if somebody wants to watch in comfort. But the opposition will never know when I am going to make a specific call. That is the trick.”
The pressure will indeed be on the All Black lineout and while they will obviously look to change a few things, Matfield says he will be trying to anticipate the variations and stay one step ahead.
“Ultimately, they have two options on our ball. Firstly, they can try and put us under pressure by competing on our throw, although they then open themselves up for us to drive if they don’t win the ball. Or they say, ‘let’s give them the lineout and stop the drive’. I am not sure which option they will go with this week.”
Matfield was careful to add that the Boks did not have an arrogant point of view on the lineouts. “Not at all. In this game, a lot can happen in one week. Your strong point can quickly become your weak point, depending on who does their homework best.”
Speaking of weak points, Botha does not have many when it comes to taking the fight to the opposition, and as usual, he had already built up a head of steam by Thursday.
He does have a sense of humour, though, and he blushed ever so slightly when asked if it was indeed him who greeted All Black substitute prop Owen Franks with the comic words ‘Hello fatty!’ when he came on in Bloemfontein, when something more vulgar was expected.
“The physical stuff is my bread and butter,” Botha said, getting back to his script. ‘And it does not get tougher when you are up against that black jersey. It is a cliche that South Africans are born to play the All Blacks, but it is true, and for me there remains nothing more stirring that facing the Haka. The passion those guys put into it can either intimidate you or raise your battle lust, and I know what it does for me.’
Matfield was asked what impact the expected rain will have on the match. He said the Boks had the kicking game (Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn, Frans Steyn) to adapt and that would counter the experience the All Blacks have of playing in the rain.