Preview: New Zealand v South Africa

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 07:08

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND FOUR: It's a 'by how much' game apparently. Nobody seems to expect anything but an All Black victory.

It's just a question of by how much, it seems.

It's sad that rugby's greatest rivalry should have descended to this.

The  All Blacks are making noises that suggest that they are anxious about the match, how they expect a great fightback by the Springboks and how dangerous the Springboks are when they have their backs to the wall.

It all rings a bit hollow, as if the All Blacks are working as hard as possible to ward off the fatal disease of overconfidence.

But they must know in their heart of hearts that this one is there for the taking.

Look at individual against individual, unit against unit, achievement against achievement, and it is impossible to see a Springbok victory.

Where New Zealand have at least 17 world-class players, South Africa has Eben Etzebeth.

Not only are they stars but they are settled stars.

It's easy to rattle off the names of a New Zealand Test side, not so easy for a Springbok team, not when the first five on the team list are all playing out of position.

Yet the teams have chosen roughly the same number of players for their four Rugby Championship matches - 28 by New Zealand, 29 by South Africa.

For the game's sake, it is a pity.

It was clear to both countries early in the 20th century that they were the best sides in the world.

They played in 1921 and the series was drawn and again in 1928.

Each time the toast was Till we meet again.

Then came 1937 and the Springboks won the series in New Zealand.

Then came the war and the two nations met on patches of ground in the African desert and up Italy into Europe. They scrummed many a Cairo bar to bits. It was a special bond, full of determination and respect.

They played Tests only 37 times between 1921 and 1991 and South Africa won more than New Zealand, 20 to 15.

Since 1992 they have played 54 times with New Zealand well in the lead - 38 to 15.

But the frequency of the last 23 years has depreciated the specialness of the previous 70.

And now it could just prove a damp squib - just another game, unless the Springboks can find resolution and organisation to match the All Blacks.

A massive achievement could resurrect the specialness of the match and bring back rugby heroes to South Africa.

And yet ... is there a South African that does not believe that his team can rise up and be champions again?

Is there a New Zealander who does not fear that the Springboks could just front up and surprise the world?

For many South Africans the All Blacks are their favourite other team and for many New Zealanders, the Springboks are their favourite other team.

When they do well against other teams you feel the world is in the right place and there is sharpened interest for the next encounter.

The All Blacks have more Test caps than the Springboks - 914 to 621.

The All Blacks have six players of 30 and over, the Springboks five. Wyatt Crockett of the All Blacks is the oldest (33 in January), followed by Jerome Kaino (33 in April), followed by Bryan Habana (33 in June).

The All Blacks of 30 or more are Crockett, Kaino, Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Charlie Faumuina and Dan Coles. The Springboks 30 and over are Habana, Willem Alberts, Morné Steyn, Francois Louw and Adriaan Strauss.

The youngest player in the two teams is Jesse Kriel, followed by Malcolm Marx and then Ardie Savea.

That all means that the All Blacks are more experienced while the ages are much of a muchness.

Part of New Zealand's experience advantage is playing together more often as the same team with the same coaches.

Steven Hansen is in his fifth year as the All Black coach, Allister Coetzee his first. Hansen has been coaching the All Blacks for more years than Coetzee has been coaching the Springboks for months.

Players to Watch:

For New Zealand: The All Black you would most want to watch is Beauden Barrett. And then there's Julian Savea, the nearest rugby has had to Jonah Lomu. And Dane Coles is a tricky delight. And there's smooth Ben Smith skating past opponents. And .... and...

For South Africa: The Springbok locks are most watchable - aggressive Eben Etzebeth and athletic Pieter-Steph du Toit. And South Africans would love to see Malcolm Marx come onto the field.

Head to Head: Aaron Smith versus Francois de Klerk. If De Klerk could add something of Smith's efficiency in his delivery, he would become a world-beater. The line-outs should provide a great contest. Each team has five jumpers. Much will depend on the throw. Goal-kickers: Beauden Barrett and IBen Smith versus Elton Jantjies and Johan Goosen. So far Jantjies is slightly ahead of Barrett - 67 percent to 65 percent in the Rugby Championship. Fitness: We know how fit the All Blacks are, after the way they ran away from the competitive Pumas in the second half last week. The All Blacks scored 33 points in the second half, South Africa 3 against the Wallabies.

Recent results:
2015: New Zealand won 20-18, London (World Cup semifinal)
2015: New Zealand won 27-20, Johannesburg
2014: South Africa won 27-25, Johannesburg
2014: New Zealand won 14-10, Wellington
2013: New Zealand won 38-27, Johannesburg
2013: New Zealand won 29-15, Auckland
2012: New Zealand won 21-11, Dunedin
2012: New Zealand won 32-16, Soweto
2011: South Africa won 18-5, Port Elizabeth
2011: New Zealand won 40-7, Wellington

Statistical review: New Zealand have won seven of their last eight games against South Africa, including the last two in a row; though none of the last four games between these nations have been decided by more than the value of a converted try. New Zealand have won their last 14 games in Christchurch, last losing there against Australia in 1998. South Africa have played eight games in Christchurch in Test history, winning only twice, and their last victory there came over half a century ago (19-16 v New Zealand in September 1965). South Africa have won 38 percent of their games against New Zealand (35/91), the best winning record of any nation against the All Blacks. The All Blacks have averaged 41.5 points scored per game in 2016 so far, their highest since averaging 49.5 per game across 12 fixtures in 2007. South Africa have scored 31 points in the final quarter of games so far in The Rugby Championship 2016, the most of any team and five more than New Zealand, though the All Blacks have only conceded five points in the same period. The All Blacks have scored 18 tries in the competition so far this year, three more than Argentina, Australia and South Africa combined. The Springboks have put boot to ball in general play more often than any other team this tournament, averaging 26.7 kicks in general play, six more per game than the All Blacks. Sam Whitelock (40/41) has made more tackles than any player in the competition so far this year while Warren Whiteley has made 27/27 tackles, the most of any player who is yet to miss a single attempt.  Beauden Barrett (99) needs only one more point to become the fifth New Zealand player to score 100 points in The Rugby Championship; Barrett is the top scorer in the competition so far this season (43).

Prediction: There have been eight matches between the two countries in Christchurch. The All Blacks have won six, the Springboks two, including that match in 1965 when they came back from 5-16 down at half-time to win 19-16. In matches between the two in the last 10 years, New Zealand have hit 40 twice and 30 six times. South Africa have not managed either. We predict that New Zealand will win by between 10 and 40 points. Predictions are often wrong! If they were so wrong that the All Blacks lost, it would be another 'earthquake' in Christchurch.

By Paul Dobson

* Statistical data provided by Opta Sports

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Team P W D L Pts
New Zealand 6 6 0 0 28
Australia 6 2 2 2 15
South Africa 6 2 2 1 14
Argentina 6 0 0 6 0