If any team can beat the All Blacks, it’s the Springboks. And with the energy surrounding the Boks and, conversely the questions surrounding 2019’s All Blacks, it seems like this will be the case, writes JAMES DALTON.
The Springboks are running on confidence just as much as the All Blacks seem to be running on confusion when it comes to their selections. The test for the All Blacks will be whether they can iron out a settled match 23 as the tournament progresses, but my feeling is they don’t have one ready for the opening clash this Saturday.
All things considered, the outcome of this game holds very little importance points-wise, and will simply be a mental confidence test for both. If the Boks are to beat the All Blacks in the opener, it sets the tone for their campaign and further plays on the All Blacks’ seemingly fragile psyche.
Yet, if the All Blacks do win, it reaffirms their presence as the top nation and makes for an interesting battle come the playoffs. Regardless, both sides will end either first or second in Pool B, and the only real challenge after the opener will be the quarters.
However, there is a challenge in managing a pool-stage campaign where no quality side is faced after the opener – something both the All Blacks and Springboks need to be wary of. Neither Italy, Namibia nor Canada demand the best Bok or All Blacks outfit, and a system of rotation will surely be implemented by both sides.
The pool stage is long, though, and the best players will need to remain sharp and be given game time. It is both a tough logistical challenge in terms of selection and a mental and physical challenge in keeping the players prepped for the bigger games. We need to also bear in mind that while the Boks won comfortably against Japan, they didn’t dismantle them, and the expectation shouldn’t necessarily be that we are going to smash all of the weaker sides in the pool.
While selection should be managed, the attitude and intent towards these games should remain the same as any international. They certainly did during my playing days, where the objective on the field, regardless of the other team’s jersey, was very clear and that was to make them hurt.
The standing of both sides determines whether they play Scotland or Ireland in the quarters, neither of which side should realistically be a challenge for the Boks or the All Blacks. But, weirder things have happened, especially in a World Cup year.
As is the general feeling, Japan looks set to host the most unpredictable World Cup in recent years, but it is one that both the Springboks and All Blacks will feel they can take. Saturday’s opener, despite the outcome, will provide some interesting questions and answers for both these powerhouses.
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