AUDIO: 'It is going to be spicy in Wellington'
LISTEN as Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus chats about the importance of the Rugby Championship encounter between New Zealand and South Africa on Saturday.
South Africa named a near full-strength team, featuring 12 changes to the starting XV that defeated Australia last week.
The side was always going to be vastly different from the one that downed Australia 35-17, after Erasmus sent his key players to Wellington early to prepare to face the world champions.
Only wing Makazole Mapimpi, along with forwards Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit survive from the starting line-up that triumphed in Johannesburg.
Veteran No.8 Duane Vermeulen will lead the Boks in a match that sees both sides desperate to gain an advantage ahead of their blockbuster World Cup opening match in Japan on September 21.
All Black coach Steve Hansen has poured cold water on the notion the Test is a significant pointer to the teams’ World Cup group stage blockbuster.
Hansen said both teams are in a building process and plenty can happen in two months, stripping this week’s match of a bragging rights element.
“I guess it will give whoever wins it a little confidence going into the World Cup, but it won’t mean whoever wins this one will automatically win the one in the World Cup,” he told reporters.
“In the big scheme it gives everyone a chance to have a wee look at each other and feel each other out but I don’t think it’s going to affect the World Cup, no.”
However, Erasmus saw it very different.
“This game is important,” Erasmus told a media briefing, after naming his team, adding: “It is South African versus New Zealand, so it is a big one for us.”
He admitted that few people will remember that the Springboks beat the All Blacks in a Tri-Nations match in Port Elizabeth in 2011, but everybody knows that the All Blacks won the World Cup that year.
“In the bigger scheme of things, one would always play down this Test and say the World Cup is most important.
“However, in the same breath, it is a New Zealand versus South Africa Test. So for us, it is important and it will be the same for New Zealand.
“Because we play each other in the pool stages, it spices it up.”
Adding to the intrigue is that in their last three encounters no more than two points separate the teams – the All Blacks winning 25-24 at Newlands in October 2017, the Springboks winning 36-34 in Wellington in September last year and New Zealand again reversing it with a 32-30 win in Pretoria in October 2018.
“It is spicy,” the Bok coach said of Saturday’s showdown, adding: “It is going to be a close one.
“It is an important game and the team that wins will have a bit more belief and momentum going into the first pool match.”
Erasmus said it was a sign of the respect South Africa had for the New Zealanders that they dispatched players in advance to acclimatise for Saturday’s fixture.
“The New Zealanders are a very experienced and settled side while we have some catching up to do in terms of where the two sides are at the moment,” he said.
Erasmus noted the Al Blacks also fielded a weakened team in last week’s win over Argentina and would welcome back players from the Super Rugby-winning Crusaders.
“So we are in for a huge battle against the best team in the world,” he said.
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