Mains takes secret path to success

STEVE BALE reports from Johannesburg
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The Independent Online
The South African and New Zealand managements did the decent thing by their winning semi-finalists yesterday when they named them all for Saturday's World Cup final before 62,000 people at Ellis Park.

This was more predictable than the All Blacks' dazzling running rugby which, it turns out, is the product of a strategic master plan drawn up by Laurie Mains, the coach, to keep the rest of the rugby world in the dark. Mains admitted yesterday that last year he had deliberately circumscribed his team's approach.

"We played a more mundane game in 1994," he said. "We didn't want to show what we could do, so that people couldn't prepare for us in '95. We hid everything, absolutely everything. We spent last year just concentrating on our set-pieces."

Thus far the great cover-up has been an outright success, making the All Blacks' unchanged selection the only equitable response to the dispatch of England, especially once a doubt over the fitness of Zinzan Brooke had been resolved. The unorthodox No 8 aggravated a long-standing leg injury when he stubbed his foot dropping a goal against England.

There is little mystery about his approach, he said. "Perhaps other coaches don't cotton on because it's so simple. I believe the more complicated and clever you get, the more confused your players get."

South Africa's selection choice was not quite as straightforward as New Zealand's. They resisted the temptation to give their front row more power, preferring Balie Swart to Marius Hurter, and have taken another gamble by retaining the lock, Mark Andrews, at No 8. They have one change on the bench, Brendan Venter for Christiaan Scholtz, as do New Zealand: Jamie Joseph for Blair Larsen.

Mains has been turning his attention this week to the All Blacks' frustrating habit - shown against both Scotland and England - of going off the boil once a substantial lead has been built. "Obviously it's a concern to me that we have lost a bit of concentration, and if we do that on Saturday we will lose," he said. "It's a state-of-mind thing: if the scores had been closer I don't think they would have eased up."

The New Zealand coach anticipates a more searching examination of these All Blacks than the predecessors who won 27-24 here in 1992 in the first Test after the Springboks' readmission to world rugby. "South Africa are on a hugely higher plane," Mains said.

"They were having their first official Test for eight years and had been together for three or four days for the first time. They hadn't had the opportunity to find out what international rugby was. There is no comparison between the South African team now and the one in '92."

SOUTH AFRICA (v New Zealand, Johannesburg, Saturday): A Joubert; J Small (Natal), J Mulder, H le Roux (Transvaal), C Williams; J Stransky (Western Province), J van der Westhuizen (Northern Transvaal); P du Randt (Orange Free State), C Rossouw, S Swart, J Wiese, J Strydom (Transvaal), R Kruger (Northern Transvaal), M Andrews (Natal), F Pienaar (Transvaal, capt). Replacements: G Johnson (Transvaal), B Venter (Orange Free State), J Roux (Transvaal), G Pagel (Western Province), A Drotske (Orange Free State), R Straeuli (Transvaal).

NEW ZEALAND: G Osborne (North Harbour); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce, W Little (North Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens, G Bachop (Canterbury); C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick (capt), O Brown, R Brooke (Auckland), I Jones (North Harbour), M Brewer (Canterbury), Z Brooke (Auckland), J Kronfeld (Otago). Replacements: M Ellis (Otago), S Culhane (Southland), A Strachan (North Harbour), R Loe (Canterbury), N Hewitt (Southland), J Joseph (Otago).