This weekend’s rugby promises to be a telling one in many ways.
Both the SA/Australia and the Puma/All Black match-ups will, I believe, provide us with some sort of gauge on what to make of Heynecke Meyer as an international coach.
The Argentina/All Black match is of particular interest due to Graeme Henry’s involvement with the Pumas. I am keen to watch this match with attention for two reasons in particular. First and foremost it will tell me just what to make off last weekend’s Springbok performance; were the Springboks bad or were they made to look bad by a much improved Argentinian side. Just how much did Argentina step-up and/or how much did Graeme Henry accomplished with this side over the last 5 weeks?
If the Pumas do well against New Zealand it will put a totally different perspective on last weekend’s match between SA and Argentina. Was that Argentinian performance at the breakdowns real and due to Henry’s influence or the result of kamikaze home ground motivation and/or an indication of just how piss poor the Springboks really are at the breakdowns? If the Pumas are totally outplayed at the collisions then one should get really really worried about the Springboks in that department of the game.
The second reason why I’ll watch this match with much interest is because it has the potential to reveal to us just how to play the All Blacks. What match strategy would Henry employ against the team that he coached for 8 years? What part of the All Black game are the Pumas going to attack? Are the Pumas going to play within themselves and stay with their strengths or are they going to come up with a courageous approach and try something innovative?
Most people here in NZ believe that the Pumas biggest challenge is in the area of attacking play. Attacking skills and play is not something that you develop overnight and there are general consensus that the Pumas have neither the offloading -ball handling skills- nor the players with the necessary flair to challenge the All Blacks goal line.
South Africa to be honest sits with the same problem in comparison with the All Blacks namely neither the flair nor the refined backline skills to challenge New Zealand with an expansive game. This –fact that the Pumas and SA are in the same boat- will give us therefore an indication just how Graeme Henry would have approached the All Blacks if he were the Springbok coach.
New Zealanders generally believe that the way to beat the All Blacks it to beat them at the breakdowns/collisions; to beat McCaw/Messam/Read at their own game. I am therefore keen to see if Henry is going to advise the Pumas to attack that part of the All Black game or whether he is going to use the same tactics the Springboks seems to favour namely to play to the corners and to concentrate on set piece and defence. The Pumas strategic and structural approach to counter the ‘illegal’-according to many South Africans- New Zealand tactics at the tackle ball rucks is certainly going to be interesting to see if nothing else.
The South Africa/Australia test match in Perth will also provide much information about the current Springboks at the breakdowns. Just how ‘balanced’ are the new loose trio of Vermeulen/Coetzee and Alberts? Is Heynecke Meyer on the right track with the above mentioned combo and just what is his envisioned game plan with this so-called ‘balanced’ loose trio? Can SA really proceed without a fetcher in the loose trio?
Duanne Vermeulen - Is he really the solution and exactly how does he fit into Meyer’s game plans? What sort of game does Meyer want him to play and just how well did he recover after his injury; well enough to last in the cauldron of test rugby? I still believe Vermeulen/Coetzee and Alberts are too similar in style to be considered a balanced loose trio and this test match might tell whether I am right or wrong.
What will Ruan Pienaar bring to the table to make a difference or was it in essence our lack of structure at rucks and loose scrums that hamstringed Hougaard at No9? Will Goossen make a difference with regard to our backline play is another issue that I will try and assess hoping of course that he get enough game time to allow me to satify my curiosity on this particular concern I have about the springbok team?
Can Etzebeth and Kruger reproduce their performances against England or should we stick with Bekker?
Can Heynecke step-up and move beyond high school kick and chase rugby?
Lastly, I believe the Aussie/SA match will tell just how far ahead of the pack are the All Blacks? If the Aussies held SA to a close contest or more importantly beat us it will signpost that the gap between SA and the All Blacks has increased out of proportion. It will, in such a case, disclose how much the experiment with PdV had cost SA rugby; whether that experiment had resulted in more damage than most of us could have imagined.