Preview: South Africa v New Zealand
The Rugby Championship decider between the Springboks and the All Blacks has been billed as the greatest match of the year, with good reason.
The Rugby Championship decider between the Springboks and the All Blacks at Ellis Park has been billed as the greatest match of the year, and with good reason.
'Dit is die maand Oktober, Die mooiste, mooiste maand'. The poet C Louis Leipoldt said it first and the people of the Highveld repeat each year when October proves again and again that it is the loveliest month of the year.
Saturday's big Test is in October. There seems nothing to stop it from being the greatest match of the year - when one plays two at two's favourite venue - the best teams on the world in perfect conditions - in the day and not the night, dry and warm enough.
Of course, the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, as they did in Eden Park three weeks ago when a great possibility came tumbling down.
This could go wrong again this Saturday - a stand collapse, an unexpected electrical storm, a plane crashing into the crowd, a riot break out, terrorist intervention, or, as happened three weeks ago a catastrophic refereeing error destroy the match - all of these things could happen.
Equally none of these things could happen and we could have a great game - two superb packs of manly forwards going hammer and tongs at each other, two sets of speedy backs racing for the goal-lines, backs and forwards combining in a single plan of scoring more points than their opponents, two teams engrossed in the match.
That would be wonderful and we, too, humble watchers would be gratefully engrossed.
That is what we ask - that and, of course, victory for the team you support, for nobody sits on a fence or a touchline when Springbok plays All Black, rugby's greatest rivalry and clearly so at present - clearly the best teams in the world carrying on a tradition started in 1921, flagging a bit in recent times as the matches became less special with increased numbers but somehow recovering a bit this year as the Springboks have upped their game.
It is the last round of SANZAR's championship. New Zealand are five points ahead of South Africa on the log but South Africa have a better points' difference.
That means that if the Springboks score four or more tries to three or fewer by the All Blacks and win by eight points or more, the Springboks would be surprise champions.
That such an outcome could even be contemplated seems farfetched in these days of All Black magnificence. The All Blacks have much the easier task - just win, lose by seven of fewer, score four tries - any one of those would give them the championship.
This year both sides have played and beaten Argentina and Australia twice each. The results may just be a guide.
New Zealand: vs Argentina 28-13 and 33-15, vs Australia: 47-29 and 27-16.
South Africa: vs Argentina: 73-13 and 22-17, vs Australia: 38-12 and 28-8.
.In those matches South Africa scored 161 points, conceding 50; New Zealand scored 135, conceding 73.
That may count for nothing as they get down to personal conflict, but it does suggest that South Africa may have been doing better than New Zealand managed. It is an astonishing thought.
It has been an exceptional series of teams that make up the present All Blacks. They have won eight in a row since England hammered them on 1 December 2012.
But then the Springboks have not being doing all that badly either. They won nine in a row till the All Blacks won that one at Eden Park last month.
The Springboks are, at least in terms of results, of a class with the All Blacks. When it comes to mode of play there has been a difference though the Springboks' way of playing has been freed up considerably since the inclusion of clever, creative, free spirited Willie le Roux.
There is a bit more emphasis on the penetrate part of the old subdue-and-penetrate gameplan.
It's hard to gauge possible strengths in specific areas by what happened in that handicapped match three weeks ago.
Even down to 14 men, the Springboks scrum functioned more smoothly and the line-outs were similar. The penalty count was 15-8 in the Springboks favour. The All Blacks scored four tries to two.
Gauging loose forward effectiveness is also difficult when 14 play 15 for 39 minutes.
Players to Watch: There are the 30 that start - all masters of their craft, and there are some special talents to come if given a chance - Siya Kolisi and Patrick Lambie for South Africa and Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Charles Piutau and, after what he did in Auckland, Beauden Barrett of New Zealand. There may well be a change to the Springboks line-up as Jan Serfontein has been bracketed with JJ Engelbrecht whose fitness is some cause for concern, though it seem that Jean de Villiers is a more natural outside centre. Of course, Israel Dagg is a player to watch. He has not been at his brilliant best of late but if he gets his feet and legs working on the Highveld he could be devastating. This is also true of the four wings. Willie Le Roux is always worth watching. He may make mistakes, especially early on, but the things he does right are so special, and Ben Smith with his speed and verve is the in-form wing at present. At flyhalf there is the Scarlet Pimpernel Aaron Cruden and the stately Morné Steyn - a contrast in styles as indeed there are at scrumhalf with hyperactive Aaron Smith and wise, skilful Fourie du Preez who makes such a positive difference to the Springbok side. He proves again what Stephen Fry, Springbok captain in 1950s, believed - that your best player should play scrumhalf. In the forwards you will see that most skilled and versatile forward Kieran Read and you will want to see if Richie McCaw still has it. South African eyes will be on Bismarck du Plessis who in just 17 minutes in Auckland was clearly the outstanding Springbok on the field. A strong man he has strong men with him - big Eben Etzebeth who has done well at line-outs and with ball in hand, fitting competition for Brodie Retallick, bustling Duane Vermeulen and imposing Willem Alberts. Lots of people will be wishing Tendai Mtawarira well on his 50th cap and will be hoping to growl BEEEAST long, loud and often.
Head to Head: Willie le Roux, slight and clever, against Julian Savea, big and fast. Will the guile and guts of Bryan Habana be able to cope with Ben Smith? And there are other obvious matches - Morné Steyn vs Aaron Cruden, Fourie du Preez vs Aaron Smith, Francois Louw vs Richie McCaw, Eben Etzebeth vs Brodie Retallick and the battle of the front rows - Tendai Mtawarira-Bismarck du Plessis-Jannie du Plessis vs Tony Woodcock-Andrew Hore-Charlie Faumuina. The All Blacks are clearly worried about the Springboks scrumming strength.
2013: New Zealand won 29-15 in Auckland
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: It's not all heart over head, though that plays a part, It's not all romantic wishful thinking, it's not all about keeping a rugby tradition alive, but I believe that the Springboks will win at Ellis Park scoring more than three tries and by more than eight points while restricting the All Blacks to two tries. And who will say on Friday that it is impossible on Saturday?
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrechtn, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 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 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau.
Date: Saturday, 5 October
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Expected weather conditions: It's spring on the Highveld, the beautiful month of October. The weather is expected to be sunny and clear with a high of 26°C, dropping to 13 °C.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Greg Garner (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
By Paul Dobson