World Cup warning over the Boks' mauling tactics
Be afraid, New Zealand, be very afraid. Rugby's great innovators – the South Africans – have exposed yet another major weakness in our national game just a year out from the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Last year an inability to field bombs cost the All Blacks the Tri Nations. This year South African Super rugby teams are bullying us with rolling mauls.
Highlanders coach Glenn Moore warned last night to expect their test side to adopt the same tactics.
After his team weathered a full frontal assault at the hands of a Lions side coached by Springboks forwards boss Dick Muir on Friday night, Moore said: "It's something the [Springboks] will try, definitely.
"Dick Muir showed his hand didn't he? So I think it will definitely flow through to the test arena."
All Blacks coach Graham Henry, as fate would have it, is in Dunedin this week, and Moore expected Henry would pick his brains on how to combat the mauls likely to be used by the defending world cup champions, South Africa.
Given the Highlanders have now played all five South African franchises, there's probably no better man to ask. But Henry may not like what Moore has to say.
Moore said the Highlanders had struggled against the maul, and there was no easy solution. "It's not easy to stop," he said.
"If they get a platform up, you are limited in what you can do.
"You can't hang off it. You have to belt it hard."
The question is, can the All Blacks do that?
Former All Blacks prop Craig Dowd believes they can, but issued a note of caution.
"Mauling is back with vengeance, the game has changed 180 degrees again," he said.
"They, South Africa, are better at mauling than us, and have been for a long time, so the onslaught is coming – that's the bad news. The good thing is, we know it, we can see it, so we can prepare for it."
So far, New Zealand teams have not looked well prepared at all.
The Hurricanes last week bizarrely allowed the Bulls to form a maul from a lineout unopposed.
The move, a bungled attempt to earn a penalty, backfired. Instead of the Bulls being deemed offside, or creating an illegal obstruction, Victor Vito was sent to the sinbin.
The Bulls rubbed salt into the wound by forming maul after maul after maul, creating a template experts like All Blacks great Ian Jones are in no doubt will be repeated come test time.
"It is a strike weapon for them and the last couple of generations of New Zealand rugby players have lost that art," he said.
"But just because we are not that great at mauling doesn't mean we can't stop it. The Crusaders have shown they can. They get in early to diffuse any danger. That's what needs to be done.
"But I will say they are damn hard to stop once they are going, so the All Blacks need to be careful.
"They tried it a bit last year, didn't they, so it has been there. But this year it's happening more and the All Blacks selection panel will be monitoring that."
If they do stop it, they will likely have to do so without one of the hard men of last year's All Blacks, Tom Donnelly. Moore revealed yesterday the Highlanders lock has a foot stress fracture and needs an operation to correct it this week.
Moore did not know how long Donnelly would be out of rugby, but estimated it could be for at least two months.
Sunday Star Times