THE Rugby Championship trophy may be out of the equation when the Springboks host the All Blacks at Soccer City on Saturday but there will be enough motivation in both camps to produce a fine spectacle from the rugby superpowers.
The All Blacks are only three victories away from shattering the longstanding record among the top-tier rugby nations of 17 successive Test wins — a record they share with the Boks — and they are determined to finish the series unbeaten.
The Boks will be looking to extend their unbeaten run at home under coach Heyneke Meyer’s guidance and to finish the series on a high after struggling on their tours to Argentina and Australasia.
Both coaches opted for continuity in selection of their starting teams to boost their chances of success, with All Black coach Steve Hansen making only two changes to his starting team, while Meyer named an unchanged starting line-up.
The changes in Hansen’s team were at lock, where Brodie Retallick replaces Luke Romano, who is nursing a deep cut to his face, while exciting wing Hosea Gear takes over from rookie Julian Savea in a switch that could provide a safer option against the Boks’ kicking game.
The flyhalf battle between Dan Carter and Johan Goosen, in particular, will be decisive.
Given the high quality of both team’s packs, the forward battle is expected to be fierce, while the breakdowns are also expected to be tightly contested as All Black captain Richie McCaw and Francois Louw go head to head.
Given the teams’ traditional rivalry, both coaches expect a tight tussle and look forward to an electric atmosphere at Soccer City.
Meyer showed great respect for the world champions and said the presence of Carter would add a different dimension to the clash.
"They are a quality side and they are on a winning streak," said Meyer. "They have also been together for some time, and even if they play badly they can still win. But we like teams that throw around the ball against us because it also offers us opportunities. We are expecting a quick game and, like them, we also want to attack … with Carter back, they are a more composed team and he is a big threat (individually), so it will be a huge challenge."
Meyer, however, was optimistic that his team could register a victory and said: "We truly believe that we can beat them although we know we have to kick at an 80% success rate. They have an unbelievable defensive system, so we have to put them under pressure and use every opportunity we create. They are also the type of team that can punish you if you give them space, and they have proved that they can come back from behind to win games."
With Goosen at flyhalf last week, the Boks struck a good balance between kicking and running — which Hansen expected on Saturday.
"I think in their own half they’ll kick and outside of that they will look to run it and play a continuity game," said Hansen. "There will be a lot more ball movement than there was in Dunedin."
Despite having the series victory wrapped up, Hansen said his team would not be short on motivation and he rejected suggestions that hunting a new record of 18 back-to-back victories would place extra pressure on the team to win.
"We set a goal from the outset to improve our performance each week. It is always a tough challenge to play against South Africa, but we embrace it and we are looking forward to it."
He said of the record: "It doesn’t place more pressure on us. There is an expectation to win in every Test we play, and records are a byproduct of good performances."
Zane Kirchner; Bryan Habana, Jaco Taute, Jean de Villiers (capt), Francois Hougaard; Johan Goosen, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw; Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Tiaan Liebenberg, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Marcell Coetzee, Elton Jantjies, Juan de Jongh, Pat Lambie.
ALL BLACK SQUAD
Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Hosea Gear; Dan Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Liam Messam; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Luke Romano, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Tamati Ellison.
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