Auckland — The breakdown battle between SA’s Siya Kolisi and New Zealand’s Sam Cane will form an integral part of Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash between the Springboks and All Blacks in Albany.
The Bok back row will have a different look because of Jaco Kriel’s shoulder injury, which could result in Sharks youngster Jean-Luc du Preez earning his second start when coach Allister Coetzee announces his match-day 23 on Thursday.
Question marks will linger over Du Preez’s breakdown efficiency, compared to the manner in which Kolisi and Kriel jointly approach the ground battle.
Neither are specialist fetchers like Cane, whose seamless transition has made sure New Zealand rugby has not experienced the impact of Richie McCaw’s retirement as too serious in the past two years.
While New Zealand will always be the world’s breakdown benchmarkers, it is telling to see how teams fare in this respect against Australia, so as to measure themselves against the All Blacks.
Despite having lacklustre tight-forwards, Australia have always been able to manufacture loose-forwards who have proven to be world-class nuisances at the breakdown.
While David Pocock is still enjoying his sabbatical, the current captain, Michael Hooper, wages a lone battle against marauding packs.
The fact that Kriel and Kolisi, in particular, played a leading role in neutering Hooper and ensuring that the Boks dominated the breakdown in last week’s Test, shows that the "fetcherless" Boks have somehow found a way to deal with ground warfare without the said specialists.
The All Blacks, though, are a far smarter and resourceful side than the Wallabies and do their homework on potential threats.
One would be Nigel Owens’ officiating, as northern hemisphere match officials do not give the All Blacks as much breakdown and scrumming leeway as compared with
their counterparts from the southern hemisphere.
But Cane, who will be earning his 48th Test cap should he start, has proved he is too good a player to worry about match official interpretations, which vary from game to game.
Kolisi’s all-round game has improved exponentially under Coetzee, as was seen in the last 10 minutes of the 23-all draw against Australia in Perth during which the loose-forward made two crucial interventions that very nearly led to the Boks winning the game.
There has also been the linking and support play normally seen carried out by No 8s, with Kolisi popping up everywhere to collect passes for tries, and ensuring that attacking momentum does not stall.
With the British and Irish Lions, Argentina and Australia exposing chinks in the All Black defensive armour, this is where a player like Kolisi has to come to the fore. No worries about that, though, he has proven this season he is superhuman in the Bok jersey.