Preview: New Zealand v South Africa
Preview: New Zealand v South AfricaSHARE
Both the All Blacks and the Springboks will face their toughest test of the year so far when they meet at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
It is rugby's greatest rivalry, and given the impressive form of the two sides with the No.1 world ranking at stake as well this match has the makings of a real classic.
History weighs heavily against the Springboks as they seek to win at one of rugby's great venues for the first time since 1937, and by doing so become the first side to beat the All Blacks there since 1994.
However, Heyneke Meyer's side proved last week that the weight of history holds little fear for them as they ended a 'hoodoo' in Brisbane with an emphatic performance against an embattled Wallabies outfit.
That result not only saw them move a point clear of the All Blacks on the Rugby Championship standings, but it has also narrowed the odds as Springbok fans dare to dream of a first win on New Zealand soil since 2009.
A win for the visitors will make it ten consecutive Test victories and also put them firmly in the drivers seat of the competition with just two home games remaining, however in order to do so they will have to beat the best team in the world on their home track.
The All Blacks have only ever lost one match under the guidance of coach Steve Hansen, and his counterpart knows that it will take something special for the Boks to make it a clean sweep of away wins in the Rugby Championship.
"I have unbelievable respect for the All Blacks, not just as a rugby team but also as a nation – given what they have achieved and what they represent. We know that we have to make a huge step up, because this is the best team in the world we are facing," said Meyer.
The Bok coach has named an unchanged team from the one that beat the Wallabies so convincingly last week, and the major challenge for them will be to back that performance up at the end of a taxing tour.
Hansen has opted for as much experience as possible in his selection, with Ma'a Nonu, Liam Messam and Owen Franks back in the fold, which is a mark of just how much respect he has for the Boks.
The All Blacks coach admitted that relegating the impressive Steven Luatua to the bench was the toughest decision he had to make this week, which raises the point of how influential replacements are set to be in this game.
Both teams have some considerable firepower on the bench, and the impact of players such as Luatua and Adriaan Strauss could be decisive in what should be a tight match.
While they may have scored four tries last week, those expecting an expansive game from the Boks are likely to be disappointed.
With wet weather predicted for Auckland they will stick to what has earned them nine wins in a row by confronting the All Blacks physically and looking to snatch every chance they get to score points.
The All Blacks showed against the Pumas in Hamilton last week that whatever the weather conditions they will try to play with width and at a high tempo, although a solid platform up front against the Boks is not negotiable as the Wallabies found out to their detriment in Brisbane.
This makes for something of a clash of styles, but the battle will be won and lost in the contestable areas of the set-pieces and the breakdowns as the team that dominates those aspects of play will be the one calling the shots.
Meyer knows that there can be no compromises in what will be the ultimate test of his team's focus and resolve.
"The All Blacks are a great side and there are no weaknesses in their team – you simply have to be at your very best in every facet of the game – they have a brilliant kicking game, a brilliant running game, they defend well, they scrum well and they are good in the line-outs," he explained.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: All three outside backs can be devastating if they are not shut down quickly enough, so look for the creativity of Israel Dagg, the guile of Ben Smith and the power of Julian Savea. In midfield the old pairing of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are reunited on the outside of master playmaker Dan Carter who will look to ignite the backline along with livewire scrumhalf Aaron Smith. Kieran Read will lead from the front in the absence of injured skipper Richie McCaw, and in the tight five lock Sam Whitelock and prop Owen Franks will be key in the set-pieces.
For South Africa: Willie le Roux is revelling in his role as wing with a license to shake things up, whilst skipper Jean de Villiers has seen it all before and will provide some vital composure. Big Willem Alberts will be tasked with gaining forward momentum on attack and defence to give the likes of Francois Louw the opportunity to make an impact in a supporting role. Up front Eben Etzebeth will bring characteristic aggression and intent to all he does and in the front row hooker Bismarck du Plessis will not take a backwards step.
Head to head: Willie le Roux and Julian Savea are two vastly different wings, so it will be interesting to see how they measure up and there will be another fascinating match-up at outside centre with the athletic JJ Engelbrecht facing up to the class and experience of Conrad Smith. If the match is as close as expected, the boots of the two flyhalves – Dan Carter and Morne Steyn – could prove decisive, while much will also depend on the quality of service they receive from Aaron Smith and Ruan Pienaar respectively. The battle at the breakdown between Francois Louw and Richie McCaw's replacement Sam Cane wil be monitored closely and there will be no holding back at the back of the scrum either as Kieran Read and Duane Vermeulen tear into one another. Brodie Retallick and Eben Etzebeth are two young tight locks who look set to become giants of the game, and the showdown at scrum-time between veteran props Tony Woodcock and Jannie du Plessis should be one to savour.
2012: New Zealand won 32-16 in Soweto
2012: New Zealand won 21-11 in Dunedin
2011: South Africa won 18-5 in Port Elizabeth
2011: New Zealand won 40-7 in Wellington
2010: New Zealand won 29-22 in Soweto
2010: New Zealand won 31-17 in Wellington
2010: New Zealand won 32-12 in Auckland
2009: South Africa won 32-29 in Hamilton
2009: South Africa won 31-19 in Durban
2009: South Africa won 28-19 in Bloemfontein
Prediction: This one could go either way as both teams have the tools to secure victory, however the Boks are at the end of their tour and playing away from home so we expect the All Blacks to sneak a three-point win.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau.
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss , 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Juandré Kruger, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Date: Saturday, September 14
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.35 (09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: High of 14 low of 9, 30% chance of rain, 20 km/h wind
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
By Michael de Vries