The Springboks are on a high, the All Blacks want to set the record straight and the much-anticipated clash between these old rivals at Loftus Versfeld is expected to have South Africans linking arms for the singing of the national anthem, momentarily forgetting that they can barely afford to pay for petrol.
In a repeat of last year’s final leg of the Rugby Championship, New Zealand headed to South Africa with the title in the bag. But, unlike their laid-back build up to the dead-rubber Test in Cape Town in 2017, the All Blacks have this week spoken about “righting a wrong” against the Boks, who have earned renewed respect under Bok coach Rassie Erasmus.
New Zealand went down 36-34 against South Africa in Wellington in September and it would deal another shock to the rugby world if the reigning champions fail to avenge that home loss on Saturday. There has been plenty of plaudits for the Boks’ brave defence at the Cake Tin but if All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett had had his goal-kicking boots on, the result would have been different.
Steve Hansen’s selections for the Loftus rematch shows that New Zealand mean business. Captain Kieran Read, tighthead prop Owen Franks and scrumhalf Aaron Smith return to the starting XV with the mercurial Sonny Bill Williams, while breakout star Shannon Frizell retains his spot at blindside flank. Richie Mo’unga earns a place on the bench after his cameo in last Saturday’s 35-17 win in Argentina.
Bok boss Erasmus has backed long-in-the-tooth fetcher Francois Louw at No 8, as well as right wing Cheslin Kolbe up against the physically superior, Kiwi try-machine Rieko Ioane. Red-hot loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff will start ahead of veteran Tendai Mtawarira, while tighthead Vincent Koch plays off the wood in his first opportunity in the green-and-gold jersey since 2016.
Should the Boks lose, Rassie’s tactics, selections and a worrying lack of game-time for his back-up scrumhalves thus far in 2018 will come into question.
The All Blacks, who remain the bookies’ favourites, aren’t accustomed to losing. In 2016, Ireland dispatched New Zealand 40-29 in Chicago for their first-ever win over the men in black, ending the world champs’ record-breaking run of 18 Test wins.
In 2017, the British and Irish Lions pulled off a 24-21 thriller against the Kiwis at The Cake Tin, and a late Owen Farrell penalty snatched a 15-15 draw for the Lions in Auckland to end the series 1-1.
That same year, the Wallabies ended a seven-game losing streak against the All Blacks with a 23-18 victory in the third Bledisloe Cup clash – the Kiwis responded by winning their next nine Tests.
But a first Bok win against the Kiwis at home since 2014, and a second at Loftus in 38 years, would add to last Saturday’s triumph over Australia in PE. It will also set up Erasmus’ men for their end-of-year tour to Europe and possibly bump SA to third on the world rankings.
A rare double Kiwi scalping would breathe life into the SA-New Zealand rivalry, not to mention ignite the braai-and-pub banter for the two nations’ blockbuster opening encounter at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
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Devin Hermanus works in the SA media industry, eats tomatoes but hates ketchup, favourite colour is blue, and listens to Eminem while doing yoga. Follow him on Twitter: @DevinMyles11