JOHANNESBURG // This year's new law interpretations perfectly suit the style of play the All Blacks set in motion on their 2009 tour of Europe, Wayne Smith, the New Zealand assistant coach, said yesterday. There is a now a greater emphasis on the tackler not being allowed to play the ball in the tackle, stricter policing of players being in front of the kicker and tightening up on players obstructing during the formation of rolling mauls.
The All Blacks lost all three Tri Nations Tests they played against the Springboks last year, succumbing to the South Africans' territory-based kicking game and a strong chase to close down any counter-attack. Smith told reporters yesterday that they had decided to play a more expansive, ball-in-hand game against France in Marseille on November 28, 2009, because they felt that was the direction in which the game would be heading. The All Blacks ran in five tries as they marched to a spectacular 39-12 victory.
"We were swimming against the tide in last year's Tri Nations because we were trying to play with the ball in hand because that's what inspires our players, that's what motivates them, while the kick-chase does not. But we were not helped by the laws last year and our skills also let us down," Smith said. "But I'll say Marseille was the watershed for us because it showed it was possible to use that style of play."
New Zealand, with four straight wins in this year's Tri Nations, take on the Springboks on Saturday at Johannesburg's Soccer City, the venue for last month's football World Cup final, and Smith said it was a timely challenge for them. "This weekend they have [the Springbok captain] John Smit's 100th Test, the first game of rugby at that stadium, a crowd of 90,000 and the fact we have beaten them twice to spur them on."