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Thu Apr 24 10:27:57 SAST 2014

It'll be an aerial battle

LIAM DEL CARMEin Durban | 08 June, 2012 06:440 Comments
Morne Steyn chats to Bryan Habana during the South African national rugby team training session at Northwood High School on June 06, 2012 in Durban, South Africa
Image by: Steve Haag / Gallo Images

AERIAL supremacy is increasingly not just winning the battle - it's winning the war, too.

Whether it is the high ball or the lineout, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer's blueprint revolves around his team's ability to contest the ball in the air. For goodness sake, he has selected a fullback he believes can catch but, more importantly, can kick and chase.

As he sets about his task in his maiden test series in charge, some had hoped Meyer would chart a bold new course for Springbok rugby, away from the boa constrictor pressure game that painfully (for many watching) suffocates opponents, to something more, well, springbok like.

But Meyer has been at pains to explain that he is interested only in winning rugby, no matter the degree to which it is required to align itself with the percentages.

The garryowen will thus unavoidably be a key feature of tomorrow's opening test. As will the lineouts, where the Springboks have opted to gamble high on the rookie second-row combination of Eben Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger.

The problem for Meyer in engaging England in the air is that he is pitting his battle plan against a fella called Lancaster, Stuart Lancaster.

The England coach isn't necessarily anticipating another Battle of Britain, but he has fortified his back-three defences by redeploying Ben Foden, who normally stands tall under the high ball but is perhaps more renowned for what he does on the counter, to the left wing. That opened the door for Mike Brown at fullback.

"By moving Ben to the wing, we retain his strike power and aerial skills and can utilise not only Mike's attacking and defensive assets, but we can also call on his left-footed kicking game," explained Lancaster.

So England know what to expect. Typically though, Meyer is undeterred, emboldened perhaps by the courage of his convictions that even if the enemy knows what's coming, they can do precious little about it.

A steady supply of good lineout possession will provide the Springboks with the platform from which to launch a weapon many felt, under the two previous regimes, was under-utilised. Like the high ball, the maul doesn't score high on the aesthetics scale, but Meyer knows rugby contains few better chest-thumping shows of authority.

England, however, proved combative up front and generally well organised in the Six Nations, and those qualities should stand them in good stead tomorrow.

They, like the Springboks, have some nagging questions about the recent form of their star flyhalf but unlike Lancaster, Meyer has far more to lose from an errant display from his pivot. Without Morne Steyn finding his range, there will be no shock and awe.

England: Mike Brown, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Ben Foden, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw (captain), Tom Johnson, Geoff Parling, Mouritz Botha, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley, Joe Marler. Substitutes: Lee Mears, Paul Doran Jones, Tom Palmer, Phil Dowson, Lee Dickson, Toby Flood, Jonathan Joseph.

Referee: Steve Walsh

Kick-off: 5pm

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