All Blacks-O-Meter: South Africans give timely reminder of power and pressure

Getty Images

James Mortimer     12 Mar 2013     Getty Images

Add another P in pragmatic, perhaps even pessimistic at times, and it was these rudimentary aspects that have allowed Springboks and Bulls sides to rule at times.

But for the rugby romantic, the lover of running rugby, New Zealand Rugby’s own basic blueprints have prevailed as well.

The Springboks have never been graced with consistently as skilled backs as the All Blacks, but equally in New Zealand there isn’t quite the production line of forward behemoths that the Republic churn out.

Often, the power of South African backs hasn’t had the glossful touches added by their rear division, while New Zealand teams often don’t so much rely on their forwards as winners of the game, as much as the platform setters for their runners out wide.

This key difference was what appeared to differentiate New Zealand Super Rugby outfits very early in the season, playing expressive rugby true to heritage and type, and some even went as far to remark that the Kiwi game was on a different level altogether.

Then the Cheetahs and Bulls touched down in New Zealand, while the defending champion Chiefs headed to Cape Town.

Oh, what a difference a week can make.

One could argue that with the exception of the men from Waikato, both the Highlanders and Blues were well beaten – by that lethal combination of a side executing their game versus a team that is off colour and playing with little precision.

But the intimidating blueprint was set, most notably by the free running Cheetahs, who switched their wide sweeping running game into a straight running style with the subtlety of a runaway train, and their enthusiastic backs combining with massive ranging forwards was quite a sight.

It would have been noted both in New Zealand and in the Republic how effective South African teams can disrupt and impose themselves, even if again in the Bulls case, it was ‘you know what is coming, but how you counter that is another thing’.

While the Hurricanes toasted the only victory of the round, there was further evidence that the powerbase of New Zealand rugby is indeed in Chiefs territory, with their losing effort, in the end by two points, while taking the same number of bonuses, came from a night at the office coach Dave Rennie remarked was surprisingly close considering how he thought his men lost the collisions.

In this regard, coach Steve Hansen will be far from worried, knowing that All Blacks' packs often are a vastly different beast to their Super Rugby counterparts, one that throughout history has been the only one to effectively match at times the physicality of the mighty Springbok approach.

Further to this, the All Blacks mentor will know that the cobwebs are still present, and the sun still very low in the season.

He would not want his big guns firing now, even if Kieran Read and Dan Carter have their work cut out with the Crusaders less than ideal start.

But the steel and the resolve shown by the Chiefs, still breaching the Stormers vaunted defence four times, showed that the backbone of the game in New Zealand is still very strong.

Rising players will have already been noted by the Test selectors, happy in the knowledge that the production line is still churning, and the fierce head to head competition among the Kiwi derbies will put the All Blacks in good stead this upcoming campaign.

One Blues loss also doesn't erase the early promise shown up North.

However the preferred up style tempo, played by both New Zealand and All Black rugby teams, still needs to be able to grind down against an unyielding enemy with the physical attributes to stop the open game mantra employed on Kiwi shores.

Luckily the South Africans have provided Hansen and co with a very early reminder of that.

In London overnight, there would have also been some grim satisfaction, if not from the All Blacks but from other nations watching England's rise, their struggle with Italy.

The Italians are a growing force as their French scalp earlier this year proved, but a team ranked twelth in the world pushed hard a team ranked fourth that could claim a Grand Slam.

Italy came close to scrapping their way to a historic upset at England's spiritual home of rugby, and suddenly the Rugby World Cup looks a lot more even again.