Boks locked in on world's best
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP SPOTLIGHT: The second row battle looms as key in the crucial showdown between New Zealand and South Africa.
The All Blacks host the Springboks in Wellington on Saturday and a match that could decide the Rugby Championship.
However, it is also a rehearsal for the two teams, who will go head-to-head in the opening round of the World Cup – where they are paired in Pool B.
Traditionally South Africa had the edge over most of their rivals – especially during the era when Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield dominated the game.
However, the multi-skilled duo of Brodie Retallick and Samuel Whitelock has resulted in the Kiwis overhauling the Boks in this department.
Even in the injury-enforced absence of workhorse Scott Barrett (hand fracture) the All Blacks still rank superior to their Springbok counterparts.
Lodewyk de Jager and Eben Etzebeth started in the Championship opener against Australia at Ellis Park last week.
Franco Mostert and Rudolph Snyman – members of the advance party that arrived in New Zealand before the weekend – will feature in the Cake Tin ‘cook-out’.
Springbok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot said the Kiwis had taken second row play to an entirely new level.
“I don’t know how many Tests it is, 50-60 tests they [Retallick and Whitelock] have played together as a unit, but that experience really bodes well for them,” Proudfoot told a media briefing in Wellington.
“Our guys are relishing that challenge, just to see how their game has expanded,” the Bok forwards coach added.
“We challenge our players on a weekly basis to improve and to get better.
“I’m really happy with the four [locks] we have.
“I think it’s a part of the game that’s going to be fascinating – the line-out, what the four second row forwards get up to defensively, carrying the ball up, contesting the ball in the air.
“It’s such a major part of the game, what these big guys can do.
“They are two metres tall, 115kg. When that hits you, you know all about it.
“It is just indicative of where modern rugby is now, that these guys can put in that workload.”
On the importance of the match in the context of a World Cup year, Proudfoot said that while the Boks are building towards Japan, it is important for the team to perform successfully in the Rugby Championship – in order to gain momentum for later in the season.
“Saturday’s match provides us with another opportunity to play the world’s best team,” Proudfoot said.
“When you play the world’s best team in their own backyard, you need to respect that and prepare yourself for that challenge.
“So irrespective of what is at stake later in the year, you rock up here respecting that massive challenge.”
South African squad:
Forwards: Schalk Brits (Bulls), Marcell Coetzee (Ulster, Ireland), Lodewyk de Jager (Bulls), Thomas du Toit (Sharks), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse, France), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Lizo Gqoboka (Bulls), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens, England), Francois Louw (Bath, England), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Franco Mostert (Gloucester, England), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Marvin Orie (Lions), Albertus Smith (Lions), Rudolph Snyman (Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (Bulls).
Backs: Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Damian de Allende (Stormers), Francois de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), Andre Esterhuizen (Sharks), Warrick Gelant (Bulls), Elton Jantjies (Lions), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France), Jesse Kriel (Bulls), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Sibusiso Nkosi (Sharks), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz, Japan), Handré Pollard (Bulls), Cobus Reinach (Northampton Saints, England), Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France).
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