Preview: New Zealand versus South Africa

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 06:34

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND FOUR: rugby365's acclaimed writer Paul Dobson gives us his unique view on one of the biggest matches of the year.

On Saturday, September 16, New Zealand and South Africa will clash on a rugby field - the 94th encounter between the nations who above all have dominated world rugby for more than a century.

When he announced his team to play the All Blacks, Allister Coetzee, the Springbok coach, said of the All Blacks: "There is no greater contest than to play them in New Zealand."

Ryan Crotty, the current All Black centre, said of the coming match: "It doesn't get any bigger than a Test against South Africa at home, and it's a challenge I'm sure will excite the lads."

Two camps, both believing that this is always a special match.

Presumably this is so even though the number of matches has increased and multiplied.

But the choice a venue seems to suggest that New Zealand is not taking the match all that seriously - a ground with a capacity of 25 000, the same as Pam Brink Stadium in Springs.

They first played in 1921 and from then till 1981, they played 37 times.

Since 1981 and excluding the New Zealand Cavaliers tour of 1986, South Africa and New Zealand have played each other 56 times - 37 times in 60 years and 56 times in 25 years.

And there is not quite the same excitement as of yore.

That has been surpassed by British and Irish Lions' tours which have the virtue of being rarer.

There used to be intangible rugby trophies - the Grand Slam, the Triple Crown and the World Crown.

For years South Africa wore the world crown, even though on occasion it slipped a bit.

Then in 1992 New Zealand drew level and in 1997 overtook the Springboks. That mythical world crown has rather fallen away with the World Cup, of which the All Blacks are the titleholders, and World Rugby's ranking where the All Blacks are ranked No.1, the Springboks No.3.

But to this match.

The All Blacks are favourites, and yet ... If Ireland can and the B&I Lions can, surely the Springboks can.

But to do so they will have to play for 80 minutes without slip-ups, using every opportunity and denying the All Blacks attacking chances. A tall order.

The Springboks could win the line-outs - after all they destroyed the Wallabies' 100 percent record last week - and they could win the scrums.

They are, it is true, without Coenie Oosthuizen, whose improved scrummaging is one of the wonders of the season, but then the All Blacks are without Joe Moody who destroyed the Puma scrum.

It's all very well to win the ball, but what you do with it will decide if you can win the match.

If the Springboks kick without purpose to the All Black back three, the All Blacks will not have to win a single scrum or line-out.

The Springboks have to keep the ball away from the All Blacks - get it and keep it.

They will have to defend with great energy and thoughtfulness.

There is no doubt that the All Blacks' back three - elusive Damian McKenzie, strong speedster Rieko Ioane and quick Nehe Milner-Skudder with the tricky feet - are better on attack and defence than the way Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule and Courtnall Skosan have been in the Rugby Championship so far.

In fact when you look at the All Blacks from No.9 to No.15 you realise just how vital it is for the Springboks, lesser lights for most of the way, to keep the ball away from them.

Easier said than done, for the All Blacks spread with advancing purpose and often have Kieran Read or Dane Coles as a surprise extra wing out on the touchline.

But the B&I Lions certainly did find a way to keep the All Blacks in check.

If the Springbok backs are to make inroads - and Jan Serfontein certainly can - they are going to have to keep possession well and make the best use of space.

What they will not want is a slow delivery from behind the forwards that cannibalises their space.

The All Blacks will want quick ball, quickly and securely handled, runners whose shoulders are parallel to the goal-line and always support.

They are likely to get all of those as they are the habit of the team. The man to make that happen is above all Ryan Crotty.

The contest after the tackle could be a vital one. Sam Cane is likely to lead the attack on the ball and this time he will not have the competition that Agustín Creevy provided unless the Springboks have a plan to blow Cane away.

Players to watch:

Take your pick. We hope that there will be 30 players on the field for every minute of the match and you will want to watch all if them, for there will be interesting points to watch in every one of these top players.

For New Zealand: You will want to see the way smooth, smiling Beauden Barrett can shock with a sudden burst, you will want to watch Dan Coles with his surprising speed and the all-round ability of Liam Squire. Then there is the mercurial energy of Damian McKenzie.

For South Africa: There is the strong energy of Franco Mostert. You will want to be aware of Siya Kolisi, the workhorse with an eye to a half chance. Why does he remind one of Ruben Kruger? And a burst from Malcolm Marx is always exciting.

Then, too, there will be the interesting impact of the benches. Both sides have great benches, players who can make a difference, and the end game, when the All Blacks are playing, is always interesting.

Head to Head: Locks versus Locks - Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert versus Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock. It could just be the best lock battle in the world of rugby. Front row versus Front row with the individual contest between burly Malcolm Marx and clever Dan Coles. Sonny Bill Williams versus Jan Serfontein - the strong man against the better footballer. Goal-kicker versus goal-kicker - Beauden Barrett versus Elton Jantjies. Current form certainly suggests that Jantjies has the winning of this and that could be vital if it is a close affair.

Recent Results
2016: New Zealand won 57-15, Durban
2016: New Zealand won 41-13, Christchurch
2015: New Zealand won 27-20, Johannesburg
2015: New Zealand won 20-18, London (World Cup semifinal)
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 32-16, Johannesburg
2012: New Zealand won 21-11, Dunedin
2011: South Africa won 18-5, Port Elizabeth
2011: New Zealand won 40-7, Wellington

Results in the 2017 Rugby Championship
New Zealand versus Australia, 54-34 in Sydney
New Zealand versus Australia, 35-29 in Dunedin
New Zealand versus Argentina, 39-22 in New Plymouth
South Africa versus Argentina, 37-15 in Port Elizabeth
South Africa versus Argentina, 41-23 in Salta
South Africa versus Australia, 23-all in Perth

Prediction: The All Blacks have won nine of their last 10 games against the Springboks, including each of their last four and a 42-point win when they last met, which stands as the biggest win in the history of the fixture. The All Blacks have won their last seven games against the Springboks when hosting them in New Zealand, conceding an average of just 12 points per game in that period. Of the five nations to have played multiple games at the North Harbour Stadium in Albany, New Zealand (six) and South Africa (two) are the only two that remain undefeated at the venue. This will be the first Test at the North Harbour Stadium since South Africa defeated Samoa 13-5 at the 2011 World Cup, and the first time New Zealand have played a Test there since brushing past Fiji in a 91-0 win in 2005. South Africa are yet to be defeated away from home in 2017; the last time they played more than two games away from home in a calendar year without losing was 1971. The All Blacks have won the most rucks per game (92) and boast the best ruck success rate (97 percent) or any team this competition, they are also the only squad yet to lose a scrum on their own feed. South Africa are yet to concede a try in the opening or closing quarter this campaign; each of the other three teams have conceded at least three in each of those periods. Jaco Kriel tops the tackles charts (38) after three rounds. However, Coenraad Oosthuizen has made more than any other player who is yet to miss one (32/32). Unfortunately neither Kriel, not Oosthuizen will feature in this game. Aaron Smith (five), Beauden Barrett (four) and Thomas Perenara (three) are the only players this tournament to have provided more than two try assists after three rounds. Elton Jantjies (49) has opened up a 10-point gap at the top of the point-scoring leaderboard for The Rugby Championship 2017, and is yet to miss a conversion attempt (10). It seems folly not to expect the All Blacks to win by 10 points or more, and yet the Springboks could win if....

Teams

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Square, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
 
South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Damian de Allende.

Date: Saturday, 16 September 2017
Venue: North Harbour Stadium, Albany
Kick-off: 19.35 (09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: A chance of some rain with a high of 16°C and a low of 11°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

By Paul Dobson
@rugby365com

* Statistics provided by Opta Sports

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