ARCHIE HENDERSON: The All Blacks can be beaten. Here's how
'Knowing how to beat the ABs is, of course, different from actually winning against them'
ALLISTER Coetzee now knows how to beat the All Blacks. What the Springbok rugby coach needs to do is …
1. Ensure that his scrum stays up and keeps square. If Ruan Dreyer, a cornerstone at tighthead and one of the unsung heroes of the recent Test series, continues to perform the way he did on Saturday against France, half this battle will be won;
2. Make sure his pack stays up in the scrum, but goes low in the maul. The maul is a throwback to the Middle Ages and is a thing of beauty in the eyes of some beholders, but as long as it exists it might as well be exploited. If the Boks can effectively counter the Kiwis in this area, it will negate one of their opponents’ main weapons. The counter ruck and defending against the maul are elements of the game that are difficult to master, but it can be done with practice, practice, practice and then more practice;
3. Contain Brodie Retallick. This will be no easy task, but Eben Etzebeth is at a stage of his Springbok career where he appears to thrive on responsibility. He carried the Springbok captaincy at Ellis Park as to the manner born. He is the right man for the job; and
4. Shut down Aaron Smith at the base of the AB scrum. Again easier said than done. The Lions failed to do this at Eden Park, but Coetzee has the personnel to make life difficult at the breakdown for the elusive, enterprising and outrageously skilled All Blacks scrumhalf.
The trouble with beating the All Blacks, however, is that you can plan how to take them on — as Warren Gatland believed he had done in the first Test match — only to find the opposition have other options.
This All Blacks team, like many of its predecessors, is not a one-trick pony. The All Blacks had only 45% possession in a warm-up Test against Samoa and still won 78-0. Against the Lions on Saturday — their first meaningful match in seven months — they quickly upped their possession to 61%.
Kieran Read, in only his fifth match of the season and after being out for seven weeks with a broken thumb, returned to lead from the front. Coetzee will hope that his skipper, Warren Whitely, and scrumhalf Ross Cronje — both missing on Saturday because of injuries — will show similar recuperative powers.
Knowing how to beat the ABs is, of course, different from actually winning against them.
But Coetzee will be encouraged by his best-ever start to a season, a solid Bok defence and also that the two other Four Nations contenders, Australia and Argentina, have big problems to confront. Despite the looming challenges ahead, the Bok coach can sleep easy — for now.