Rugby World Cup: All Blacks defence coach Scott McLeod identifies start as key area to defeating Springboks in final

The All Blacks' key to defeating South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final has been identified, with defence coach Scott McLeod pinpointing the start as the vital area.

On Sunday (NZ time), rugby's great rivals will meet at the Stade de France, with the victor to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented fourth time.

The two teams have already met twice this year.

In July, the All Blacks claimed first blood with a 35-20 win at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart.

Will Jordan against South Africa at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart.
Will Jordan against South Africa at Go Media Stadium Mt Smart. Photo credit: Getty Images

However, just over a month later, South Africa got their own back with a 35-7 win at London's Twickenham, and inflicted the All Blacks' all-time worst defeat at the same time.

Both victories for either side largely came down to the opening 20 minute spells, with the All Blacks' start at Mt Smart seeing South Africa unable to cope with the power and pace, before the roles were reversed at Twickenham.

And for McLeod, who's tasked with breaking down South Africa's staunch defence over the coming days, nailing the opening spell will be a decisive factor in who lifts the Webb Ellis come Sunday morning.

"It's no secret, both sides will be focussing on that first 20 minutes, I'd imagine," added McLeod.

"It's who can execute with accuracy. We've talked about that this morning.

"We need to be extremely accurate, show the pictures we want to show, and be able to apply pressure at the same time.

"The Boks have always come out and wanted to start well, we'll take our lessons from Mt Smart and do the same thing."

If it's any help, though, the All Blacks enter the final of a much more convincing semi-final victory over Argentina than what South Africa did against England.

In 80 minutes, the All Blacks ran in seven tries in their semi-final, more than South Africa, Argentina and England combined.

The All Blacks' haka against South Africa at Mt Smart.
The All Blacks' haka against South Africa at Mt Smart. Photo credit: Photosport

Ian Foster's side are peaking at the perfect time, having dropped their first game of the tournament to hosts France - who coincidentally were dumped out of the tournament by the Springboks.

And with all the pieces now in place for the final, the All Blacks' confidence levels are exactly where they need to be for New Zealand's biggest game since 2015.

"There's a lot of aspects of our game that are working," added McLeod. "That builds belief in something we've been working on for quite a while.

"To see it work in those moments, quarters and semis, is very pleasing. It's about harnessing that now, and making sure we do it again."

Also aiding the All Blacks' cause, is a lack of fatigue, both physical and mental.

After arriving in France with players like Brodie Retallick and Shannon Frizell unfit, and losing captain Sam Cane to a back injury, as well as Jordie Barrett (knee) and Tyrel Lomax (leg) during the build-up, the entire New Zealand squad is available to select from this week.

And aside from being physically fit, the winning feeling within the camp after five successive test wins, including former world No.1 Ireland, has left the group wanting to play – with no sign of burnout.  

"Looking at how we're tracking, we've got 33 fit men," McLeod said. "A number of those guys have come back from injury lately, and they haven't felt the full wear and tear of a full tournament.

"They're feeling quite fresh. Parts of your game work through the quarter-final and semi-final.

"When that works, and you get belief out of that, that's also a mental freshness. It's not something that drags you down.

"Both mentally and physically, we're ready for this. We're quite excited already, we're probably going to have to hold the boys back a bit."

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