The All Blacks are very much aware of the threat the Springboks pose in Saturday’s second round of the Rugby Championship in Wellington.
And there is a feeling of unease in New Zealand after the All Blacks, held scoreless in the second half against the Pumas, were outplayed and were rather lucky to escape with a win.
Yes, it was close to their best second side, following the lead of South Africa to let their best prepare in New Zealand for the Wellington clash. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had left eight Crusaders players at home to get a decent break, seven of them near-certainties for the starting side.
These Saders had, after all, played longer and more than the other players with the final of the Super Rugby series their last outing.
♦ However, is was a hesitant and below par display and perhaps an indication that the All Blacks depth is not of the same standard as in recent years.
Despite Hansen’s nonchalant dismissal of the rather below-par display, it must have been of concern that the All Blacks beat 38 defenders without rounding off the more than sufficient opportunities. There was also the reality that they turned over possession on 25 occasions, and that they couldn’t score a single point in the second half.
The hesitant display of the great Ben Smith on the wing and too many indications that the team did not conform to the All Backs tradition of latter years where the uniform coaching and skills training throughout the country helped to make them such a great power will also be at the back of the minds of the All Blacks brain trust.
It was, in summary, a hesitant and unconvincing display.
♦ Hansen knows what awaits after his side was beaten at the same venue by the same opponents last year. The shock 36-34 defeat was the All Blacks first loss to the Springboks in New Zealand since 2009.
What’s more, in their last three meetings the scores have been very close, true to the great rivalry between the two sides over their 98 years of competition.
Hansen, seemingly relaxed after his team’s narrow escape in Buenos Aires, pointed out that the stay-at-home Crusaders have a total of more than 400 caps between them; and oodles of quality. His bonus from the close win was the experience and game time as a team that the second-string All Blacks got in Buenos Aires.
There were five forwards, captain Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Codie Taylor, plus Jack Goodhue and Richie Mo’unga who stayed at home to refresh and could possibly be in the starting line-up.
Like the Springboks, who will probably only have Pieter-Steph du Toit of Saturday’s winning side run on against the All Blacks, Hansen will probably only use lock Brodie Retallick and stand-in captain Sam Cane of the forwards in the run-on pack, and only halfbacks Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett behind the scrum.
Mo’unga will probably have to wait for another chance to start after the outstanding performance by Beauden Barrett against the Pumas, including the match-saving tackle that may have made the difference between win and lose.