Preview: New Zealand v South Africa
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND TWO: “When South Africa plays New Zealand, consider your country at war.”
Those were words spoken before the first Test after World War II, by the great Boy Louw – who played against the All Blacks in 1928 and 1937 and had held the rank of bombardier in the Western Desert and up the leg of Italy.
This is international rugby’s most intense international rivalry.
Yet, it may not be quite the same for this match – with the World Cup just weeks away, when the first match for these two countries will be against each other on September 21.
With the World Cup in the front of the mind, there is inevitably an air of match practice-cum-trial about this match – more so for the Springboks, for they are far less experienced/established than the All Blacks.
All that said, there is a great deal riding on this match.
* Continue reading below video …
It is in the nature of a final, as they are the two unbeaten teams after last week’s first round of the Rugby Championship.
And if the first round was anything to go by, the Springboks, even if it was their B Team, were more convincing winners in Johannesburg, than were the All Blacks in Buenos Aires.
This time the All Blacks are at home, the Springboks are away, but in Wellington where last year they surprised the rugby world by beating the mighty All Blacks.
For both teams, this match is a Test and yet also a test in the sense of an experiment. Players are being tested.
There is not much risk for the All Blacks in having Beauden Barrett at fullback, as he such a wonderful footballer, not confined to doing only what the number on his back dictates.
The only other individual All Black test may be for Shannon Frizell on the flank, but that, too, is no risk at all.
The Springboks have more risky experiments – on both wings and also on the flank where busy, brave Albertus Smith’s size is in question, much as it is for quicksilver Cheslin Kolbe on the wing.
It is indeed a match with interest, a match to get excited about. It’s no wonder that it is a sell-out in an age of dwindling spectators in the Southern Hemisphere.
Players to Watch
Some will be watched to be admired – like Beauden Barrett and Willie le Roux. Some will he watched to see if they can be as good as they seem to be when they are in a contest with old hands – Richie Mo’unga, Cheslin Kolbe and Albertus Smith especially. But the truth is that all 46 of these players are players to watch, an astonishing array of rugby skill, verve and nous.
Head to Head
Experience versus Inexperience – All Blacks with their 804 starting caps versus the 457 of the Springboks. That a significant difference. But it would be interesting to see if fewer caps is not of greater value in freshness, enthusiasm and youthful durability than more caps with older bodies and done-it-all-before ennui. Front Row versus Front Row is always important in this sort of match – Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks against Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff. Against the Wallabies last week, the greater effectiveness of the Springbok front row played a significant part in the victory – but then it was a different front row. But then again this front row may be better than last week’s. Strong inside centre against tough inside centre – Sonny Bill (coming back from injury) against Damian de Allende. The scrumhalf head to head is always obvious, and this week there are two strong personalities vying for the bantam title of the match – Thomas Perenara and Francois de Klerk. Wings versus Wings – elusive Ben Smith and strong, fast Rieko Ioane against speedy, eager Makazole Mapimpi and elusive Cheslin Kolbe who is much smaller than Ioane. In other words, it could be an exciting, creative contest between the two backlines, a contest so different from the grunting determination of the two packs. There are two important men in the two No.8s, Kieran Read and Duane Vermeulen – captain versus captain, both determined men, Read more skilled and Vermeulen tougher. But there are tough battles between all individuals and units in the 26 forwards down to play the match. Goalkicker versus goalkicker – Beauden Barrett versus Handré Pollard. In Super Rugby this year Barrett’s success rate was 79 percent, Pollard’s 82 percent.
Prediction: New Zealand has won 12 of their last 14 Tests against South Africa, including a 32-30 win in their most recent encounter. South Africa picked up a 36-34 victory over New Zealand in their last clash in New Zealand and will be looking to win consecutive iterations of such fixtures for just the third time in Test history (1937 & 2008/2009). New Zealand has won 22 of their last 25 Tests, including their last two on the bounce. New Zealand has won 20 of their previous 24 Tests played at Westpac Stadium. However, they have lost two of their last three at the venue, including a two-point defeat to South Africa. South Africa have won three of their last four Tests after having won only two of their six prior to that run. South Africa have won only two of their last 12 games away from home in The Rugby Championship; though, they will be looking to pick up back-to-back wins in such fixtures for the first time since 2013. New Zealand (77 percent) and South Africa (62 percent) have the two highest win rates of any Tier One teams in Test rugby history. New Zealand needs just six more points to become the first team in Test rugby history to score 16,000 points – no other team is yet to break the14,000 mark. South Africa scored two tries within the final quarter of their 35-17 win over Australia in Round One of The Rugby Championship 2019 -as many as they had managed in that period across the entire 2018 campaign. Ngani Laumape (New Zealand) gained 7.2m per carry in Round 1 of The Rugby Championship 2019, the most of any player to make at least 10 carries. History favours the All Blacks. In the last 10 matches between New Zealand and South Africa, New Zealand has won eight, South Africa two. In World Rugby’s rankings, New Zealand is ranked top, South African fifth. New Zealand would be expected to win – at home, a more settled side that looks like an A team while the Springboks still have an experimental air about them, and yet everybody knows that every man in those two teams on Saturday will be giving of his fearless best, going flat out to win. In the full knowledge that prediction is mainly futile madness, we suggest that New Zealand will win by about eight points.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 George Bridge.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Date: Saturday, July 27
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19.35 (09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: Mainly sunny with a high of 14°C and a low of 10°C – and there will be wind.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
By Paul Dobson
* Statistics provided by Opta Sport