All Blacks more interested in beating Boks than being No 1
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DURBAN – While the Springboks were licking their wounds in the change-room at Lang Park on Saturday, the All Blacks were out on the pitch defeating Argentina 36-13, with the margin of the victory being enough to knock the Boks off pole position on the World Rugby rankings.
The Boks had been No 1 since winning the World Cup in 2019, taking over at the top from the New Zealanders, but it could be a while before the Springboks again sit on top of the mountain given their worrying form which is in stark contrast to the irrepressible rugby the Kiwis are playing.
And All Blacks will be in a mean mood in this Saturday’s momentous 100th match between the old rivals. Their captain, Ardie Savea, said after the Argentina match that the No 1 position on the ladder is of secondary importance to his team.
“It got mentioned in the postmatch interview but my mindset is you have got to beat No 1 to be No 1,” Savea said. “So it doesn't mean anything for me.'”
Savea’s coach, Ian Foster, echoed his sentiments. “It (the No 1 position) is not on our minds at all,” Foster said.
“I’m not saying that to downplay it. We’re about to play South Africa this week, we’ll get excited about that. We’re more interested in winning a Test match than where we sit on the rankings. “If we focus too much on the other thing, we’ll get tripped up and won’t be there for very long and that doesn’t interest us either.”
The All Blacks are red hot favourites and it is difficult to see how the Boks can bounce back after losing twice to an Australian team that was thrashed three games in a row by New Zealand. The Kiwis have also brushed aside Argentina two weeks in a row and at the weekend Foster had the luxury of giving a number of fringe players a run, and they still won fairly comfortably, despite the Pumas playing with greater tenacity this time.
There is no doubt that Foster has used the matches against Argentina to ready his team for the Boks.
“We love playing Test matches, but we really love playing South Africa, probably because of the amount of respect we’ve got for them,” said Foster.
“Over history it’s been an outstanding rivalry. We’re not so much talking about No 1s and No 2s, we’ve got a chance to go to Townsville to play a foe we’ve got a lot of respect for and put ourselves in a pretty nice position in this championship,” Foster said.
Foster had made 11 changes to his run-on team for this last match following the previous week’s 39-0 pasting of the Pumas.
“It was good for our younger, newer players to feel that pressure and tension, and that fourth quarter will be gold for us going forward because they will realise that if you don’t finish up when you’ve got a chance, you’re in for a bunfight, and we had our hands full in that last quarter against Argentina,” Foster said.
“In 2021 we’ve got two blocks of five Tests in a row ... we’ve taken a few gambles in a sense by utilising our squad.
“That is going to reap the rewards for us later on, but right now it’s a good position because we’ve got a lot of guys in form and it’s creating some good conversations.”
Foster added that the Boks will be have learned a great deal from their difficult fortnight against the Wallabies. “I saw enough of that game, about 50-odd minutes, to know what’s coming,” Foster said.
“The Wallabies did a really good job against them two weeks in a row, and played well. It’s probably the first time South Africa have played against a team that’s played with a lot of tempo in the last two years. I think they’ll learn a lot from that.”