September 19, 2019 / 10:58 AM / a month ago

Back three battle could be key in New Zealand, South Africa tussle

TOKYO (Reuters) - South Africa fullback Willie le Roux says ‘x-factor’ players could hold the key to success when two of the best defences in the Rugby World Cup clash as New Zealand and South Africa meet in Pool B in Yokohama on Saturday.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby Championship - New Zealand vs South Africa - Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand - September 15, 2018 - South Africa's Willie le Roux celebrates after scoring a try. REUTERS/Ross Setford/File photo

The world champion All Blacks have shifted Beauden Barrett to fullback to accommodate Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf, and will also rely on the relative inexperience of Sevu Reece and George Bridge on the wings, who have only eight caps between them.

The Springboks have a similar make-up with the experienced Willie le Roux in the number 15 jersey commanding a back three of Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, who like their All Black counterparts are clinical finishers, but have just 10 more caps as a pair.

Le Roux has acknowledged there is unlikely to be much space in which to play on Saturday - though it does not look like it will be as wet as predicted - and believes that is where the Bok back three unit must try to open up the game.

“The team that plays in the right areas might have some advantages. In the systems of teams, you get those x-factor players,” he told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday.

“Everybody’s got their jobs to do. Sometimes I find myself at first receiver, and then I take over. Sometimes I’m at centre, sometimes I’m out on the wing.

“Sometimes I don’t know where I find myself, but I try to be everywhere all the time.”

He acknowledged the Canterbury Crusaders pair of Bridge and Reece could prove to be a formidable combination for the All Blacks.

“They know each other very well, and have played in and won the Super Rugby as well,” Le Roux said. “They are a good combo – they work together, they understand each other.”

Bridge has seven tries in his five tests, though four came against minnows Tonga in the 92-7 rout in Hamilton on Sept. 7. He played the final 20 minutes in the 16-16 Rugby Championship draw with the Springboks in Wellington in July.

He also acknowledges the importance of his role and is expecting a barrage from the air with the Bok halfback pair of Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk both usually pinpoint in landing the high ball in dangerous areas for their willing runners to chase.

“If they go to the air, I’m pretty happy getting up and taking high balls,” he said. “They kicked a few high balls in Wellington, so we’ll be ready for those but if they want to run it, then we’ll just have to be able to adapt and have good connections.”

Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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