South Africa will have to produce their best performance of the season if they want to avoid a heavy defeat to New Zealand on Saturday.
The All Blacks look unstoppable at the moment while the Springboks are with their backs against the wall. It’s that underdog mindset which has served them well in the past, but this is the worst Bok team in more than a decade facing a very complete New Zealand. The gulf between these two teams have never seemed bigger which means a Bok victory will be a massive upset.
The All Blacks simply don’t lose at home and while the Boks have historically been one of a few teams who could push them all the way, that seems highly unlikely this time round.
New Zealand endured a tough first-half against Argentina last week which gave them the wake-up call they needed that it wasn’t going to be an easy win. They adjusted accordingly and produced some spectacular rugby in the second half for a runaway victory.
South Africa will know they can’t simply hang in there for 40 minutes. The All Blacks usually get better as games progress and even if South Africa manage to still be in the game after the first 40 minutes, they will know the threat New Zealand poses in the second period. It will take an 80 minute performance for the Springboks to win this one.
Their defence will have to be organised and efficient and they will have to significantly improve their tactical kicking otherwise the likes of Ben Smith, Israel Dagg and Julian Savea will make them pay.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: It’s difficult to single anyone out, but keep an eye on the halfback pairing Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett as well as behemoth winger Julian Savea. Barrett is in great form at the moment and will keep the South African defenders on their toes. Smith knows how to run a game from the scrum-half position while Savea is a massive threat from broken play and on the counter attack.
For South Africa: This is probably the last chance for Elton Jantjies to prove his worth at fly-half. The Boks will need him to be much better with his tactical kicking and kicks at goal while his defensive channel will be tested by the likes of Barrett and Ryan Crotty. Pieter-Steph du Toit makes a welcome return to the side in place of the injured Lood de Jager. His energy will boost the side and work-rate will hopefully inspire the rest of the loose forwards to follow suit. Francois Louw also needs a big game and his contribution at the breakdown could prove vital for South Africa’s chances in his 50th Test.
Head-to-head: The battle between Brodie Retallick against Eben Etzebeth is worth the entrance fee (or TV subscription) alone. Etzebeth played his 50th Test for the Boks last week and although he has been one of their best players this year, Retallick has overtaken him as the best number four lock in the world. Both are immensley physical players and enjoy the hard grind up front but it’s in the line-outs where this duel will probably be decided.
Team news: New Zealand have made two changes to their matchday squad. Ardie Savea comes in for the injured Sam Cane with Matt Todd coming into the squad as loose forward cover. Lima Sopoaga replaced the injured Aaron Cruden on the bench.
Meanwhile, Pieter-Steph du Toit finally gets his first start of this year’s Rugby Championship, while Vincent Koch starts at tighthead prop and Willem Alberts and Malcolm Marx come onto the bench. Francois Louw will play in his 50th Test for South Africa this weekend. Du Toit replaces Lood de Jager, who sustained a severely bruised knee last week against the Wallabies in Brisbane, while Koch gets the nod ahead of Lourens Adriaanse, who started last week in Australia. The rest of the Springbok starting line-up is unchanged. There are however several changes on the bench. Promising Lions hooker Marx gets a first spot amongst the reserves, while Alberts fills the gap on the bench left by Du Toit. Amongst the replacement backline players, Damian de Allende swaps places with Lionel Mapoe