New Zealand have been pushed harder than the market expects in two of their three Rugby Championship matches but they’ve found a way to get through each of them and they can make it four in a row against South Africa in Auckland early tomorrow morning.
They were widely expected to blow away Argentina, but they found that the Pumas offered much stiffer resistance than was expected – a common theme in recent matches between the two – although their possession and pressure eventually paid off in the second half as they pulled away late to seal the win thanks to tries from Damian McKenzie (seen below) and Beauden Barrett.
That first half performance will have encouraged the Springboks, especially given that the All Blacks were 22-15 down in the second half, although they will be frustrated themselves with not being able to take more than a draw from their clash with Australia which ended their 100% record so far this year.
The tie was a fair result after a hard fought 80-minute battle although South Africa did struggle to get a hold of the ball or much territory. Australia had 57% of the possession and 56% of the territory, and similar numbers against the All Blacks, as Argentina showed last week, will eventually see the All Blacks find a way through.
When they did have the ball, South Africa did manage to present a real threat – they beat 21 defenders, made 17 clean breaks and offloaded 7 times, an expansive way to score 20 points – and there is definitely space for improved performances from Elton Jantjies and a back three which was really exposed by Australia last week.
The positive for the Springboks is that their pack, led by the excellent Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, and Jaco Krier, were constantly excellent and if they keep up those standards they will at least have a platform to compete with the All Blacks.
It’s difficult to see the All Blacks failing to get away with another win here but they have not had their usual success against the handicap this year and they haven’t covered their line since the Blesidoe Cup game. Their score against Argentina was inflated by a last minute try for Beauden Barrett and a mark of 18 is difficult to call. Perhaps go for a victory by 11-20 points, which has been the case in two of their three games so far in this Championship.
Regardless of how close the game is, the All Black backline looks sure to find a way through and Nehe Milner-Skudder can get over the line. He scored on his long-awaited comeback last week but always looked a threat and will fancy his chances against a vulnerable South African back three defensively. Australia’s centres made a lot of hay against South Africa so Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams will be popular whilst Anton Linert-Brown could face tiring bodies. However, Beauden Barrett continues to excel with ball in hand and whilst he’s been slightly wayward off the tee, he has three tries already in the Championship and was allowed from doing so against Australia in the opener. 7/4 for him to get on the mark makes appeal.
1 pt New Zealand to win by 11-20 points (3/1 general)
1 pt Beauden Barrett to score a try (7/4 SkyBet)
1 pt Nehe Milner-Skudder to score a try (5/6 general)