Preview for semi final -All Blacks vs Boks

Statistics have the bad reputation of being misleading and even irrelevant when the whistle blows for a new ball game, but not always.

For the Springboks there is no escaping the intimidating fact that since 2010, the All Blacks have won 70 out of 78 Test matches for an almost 90 percent win record; since the 2011 World Cup, they have lost just three of 52 Tests played (to England in 2012, Australia earlier this year and South Africa in 2014).

For the All Blacks there is the worrying fact that Springbok captain and scrumhalf maestro, Fourie du Preez, is the one player on the planet who has over a period of time won more games against the All Blacks that he has lost. Du Preez’s incredible record against New Zealand is: Played 12, won seven, lost five.

That is not half bad, and it is a reassurance to his teammates that their captain knows how to put the Kiwis under pressure, how to unpick their defence and how to close out games against them.

It is perhaps not a co-incidence that when the Boks have had long losing sequences against the New Zealanders, it has been when Du Preez has been out of the South African game, either through Japanese commitments or injury.

The All Blacks have the overwhelming weight of form and history on their side, the Boks have an indomitable general in Du Preez.

It is also a fact that when the Boks won three in a row against the All Blacks in 2009, the year they also beat the British and Irish Lions, Du Preez was in the form of his life, and it was his precision box kicking that led the All Blacks’ coaching staff to have a rethink of their strategies.

Former coach Graeme Henry has said that the Boks forced the All Blacks into a watershed year in 2010 when they sought to convert a tactical weakness — their kicking game — into a strong point. Super Rugby teams that year were given the order from head office to concentrate heavily on tactical kicking in the interests of the national team.

And as Heyneke Meyer often points out, the All Blacks now kick more than any other team while the Springboks in recent years have gone off the boil in this aspect of the game. What was a strong point for the Boks became a weak point in the absence of Du Preez, but that is turning around now that the 32-year-old is back in the fold and again approaching top form after featuring in all five of the Boks’ World Cup games to date.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen would have had Du Preez in mind when he said the game came down to the following: “They have influential players that will be wanting to make their mark on the game, and we will be looking to shut them down, and they will have similar plans for some of our players (no doubt the likes of try-scoring machine Julian Savea and old master Dan Carter at flyhalf, not to mention game-breaking scrumhalf Aaron Smith).

In fact Smith, who is eight years the junior of Du Preez, said the latter had been a player he looked up to in his formative years as a scrumhalf.

“Fourie is one of the best scrumhalves I have ever seen play,” he said. “He was brilliant for the Boks in the 2007 World Cup, and he has had his share of success against us. There is a lot of respect for him in our team and we have identified him as a key figure. He is leading by example by the way he is playing. I can’t wait to play against him.”

It goes without saying that Du Preez is only as good s the platform he is given by the Springbok forwards. The oldest cliché in the book is that it all starts up front but never has a truer word been spoken. Du Preez is small in stature and will be swept aside by an advancing All Blacks pack. But if he gets front-foot ball, everything changes and he can dictate the game while also taking pressure off the young shoulders of Handre Pollard, allowing him to flex his muscle with ball in hand rather than having to do the lion’s share of the tactical kicking.

Even so, the feeling is that if the All Blacks’ get parity up front, they have the stars across the park to give them a 60-40 chance of winning. But if the Bok pack gets on top, the Du Preez factor kicks in and it becomes a 50-50 ball game.

Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.

Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.

by Mike Greenaway in London

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