South Africa v New Zealand, Tri-Nations, July 25
All Blacks out to win physical battle
July 24, 2009
Graham Henry is all too aware of the physical threat posed by the Springboks © Getty Images
New Zealand coach Graham Henry is aware of the fierce physical examination awaiting his side when they take on South Africa in Bloemfontein on Saturday, admitting that the Springboks are the standard-bearers for confrontational play at international level.
A battle-hardened Springboks XV will run out at Free State Stadium to face an All Blacks side that has failed to gel so far this season, their victory last week over Australia the first convincing performance of a campaign that has featured a drawn series with France and a tepid win over Nick Mallett's Italy.
"Professional rugby at the top level is hugely physical and probably the people who have set that standard are the Springboks," said Henry. "We respect that and try to match them in that part of the game. If you don't match them, then you get second. We just have to come up to that challenge really."
Henry is backing his side, bolstered by the returning Sitiveni Sivivatu on the wing and featuring livewire Chiefs scrum-half Brendon Leonard, to play a more expansive game after freezing the Wallabies out in the second-half last weekend.
"If you look at the tackle count, I think we made 110 tackles, I think Australia made 160. So we kept the ball in hand more than the Australians did last week," he said. "There was a certain amount of kicking in the game but we tried to play more rugby. If history repeats itself, we'll try to play more rugby this weekend as well."
One person quite sure the All Blacks will use width is Springboks lock Victor Matfield, who alongside the returning Bakkies Botha will be hoping to get their teeth in to rookie All Black lock Isaac Ross and misfiring hooker Andrew Hore at the lineout.
"It's an area we see as a strength of ours and we want to attack them," Matfield said. "If we can force them into lineouts it will be advantageous for us. But Ross and (Brad) Thorn did well against Bakkies Botha and I in the Super 14. It'll be nice and dry for them, so I'm sure they will try keep the ball in hand. They have great runners at the back who love to play from broken field. They don't need many phases to break you down."
Ross is well aware of the task ahead as he looks to fill the boots of injured Blues second-row Ali Williams, and insists that simple commitment to their game can see the All Blacks through.
"Obviously that's a trait of the Springboks, they like to be physical and try to bully you. But we just have to keep moving forward and bar up," he said.
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