HAMILTON, New Zealand, September 11 – The All Blacks have taken a leaf out of the Wallabies' book for Saturday's make-or-break Tri-Nations rugby Test here as they plot to dominate the Springboks forwards.The defending champions, who have under-performed so far his year, have set the stage for a torrid battle up front as they bid to turn their season around and keep the championship alive.
South Africa telegraphed their gameplan by replacing fullback Ruan Pienaar with the big boot of Frans Steyn with the clear intention of keeping the All Blacks pinned deep in their own territory and away from scoring opportunities.
It is a tactic that worked well when the Springboks won the two home Tests against their arch foes earlier in the series with their powerful pack ensuring they operated with front-foot ball.
But the All Blacks took heart from the way the Wallabies exposed deficiencies in the Springboks’ scrum last week in pulling off an upset win.
With their focus on superiority at the scrums to wear down the big Springbok forwards, the All Blacks have packed an extra loose forward instead of a lock on the reserves bench to pick up the pace late in the game.
"We’ve seen some things we can exploit," said tyro All Blacks prop Owen Franks, the 22-year-old tasked with marking Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira.
"We want to dominate the whole game. It’s huge. If we get them going on the back foot it stops their number eight getting good yards and when you’re not going well at scrum time it gets you down."
Hooker Andrew Hore conceded it was frustrating playing the South Africans and facing a kicking game that constantly forced the forwards to trudge back for lineouts, and the All Blacks’ pack had to step up as the Australians did.
"Obviously they were under a bit of pressure last week in Brisbane." Hore said, referring to the clash which the Wallabies won 21-6.
"They’ve got all their own ball when we’ve played them in the last two games so we’re working on getting our ball and putting as much pressure on their ball as we can," he added.
The Wallabies backed up their scrum superiority by maintaining the physical challenge across the pitch, forcing the Springboks into errors and laying the platform for their own backs to score two tries.
The All Blacks will need to do better in the scoring stakes, with a four-try bonus point necessary to keep alive their hopes of a 10th Tri-Nations crown.
The Springboks, with a nine-point lead in the championship, need either a win or a draw to take the title for the third time.
A bonus point if they lose but finish within seven points would also be enough if the All Blacks fail to score the necessary four tries.
"It’s going to hurt, there’s no doubt the Test match will hurt because they (the Springboks) are going to be pretty desperate themselves," All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen said.
"You’ve just got to be prepared to go to the wall."
The South Africans have stayed away from the pre-match hype in New Zealand by spending the week preparing in Australia and were due to arrive in Hamilton on Thursday evening.
Coach Peter de Villiers has overlooked the scrum meltdown in Brisbane by naming the same pack that played against Australia, which meant keeping captain and former hooker John Smit at tighthead prop.
Smit was exposed by talented Wallaby Ben Robinson but argued he was still serving his apprenticeship after less than a year in his new position.
"But I don’t believe we’ve lost any matches because of the scrumming," he told reporters in Australia.