Preview: South Africa v New Zealand
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: All by itself, this would be a match to compel interest.
That compulsion is driven sky-high by the context of the World Cup.
It could just be the greatest match of the World Cup and it comes at the beginning.
There is also the intriguing possibility that it could also be a match repeated in the last match, the match for glory, the victors’ reward that will make them famous as long as rugby is played.
It is an enthralling prospect.
To start with, they are the best two international teams in the history of the game.
New Zealand has done better than all their opponents and South Africa have done better than all opponents, save only New Zealand.
This is the 99th time they will meet since the first meeting in 1921.
It is the greatest rivalry in international rugby.
That New Zealand no longer wears the mantle of invincibility as they have done in their recent past, adds to the excitement.
In the recent Rugby Championship, New Zealand came third behind South Africa and Australia, not an acceptable position at all.
They lost to Australia, struggled to beat Argentina and drew with South Africa.
They look slightly wobbly – slightly.
They are without their giant, Brodie Retallick, one of the world’s best players.
Jack Goodhue is out injured, Rieko Ioane is out of form and the team.
And yet everybody knows that they are still capable of beating any other team in the world, and by a comfortable margin.
* Continue reading below ….
Victory – and defeat – in this match may damage honour and confidence, but it is not the end-all for the losers.
Both teams will surely advance to the quarters ahead of Italy, Namibia and Canada – even if the Springboks are again Brightoned as they were in 2015.
And it is just possible that this Saturday’s match will be the forerunner of the Final, shades of 1995 when Springbok and All Black met in the Final.
The All Blacks and the Springboks have met four times at World Cups, each winning two.
In 1995 South Africa won 15-12 to win the World Cup and in 1999 they won 22-18 to take third place in Cardiff.
In 2003 the All Blacks won 29-9 in Melbourne and in 2015 they won 20-18 at Twickenham.
This will be the first time that they have met in a pool match.
In 1995 it was a Final, in 1999 the third-place play-off, in 2003 a quarterfinal and in 2015 a semifinal.
The permutations and combinations, the ifs and buts for Saturday seem endless.
The sheer uncertainty of the outcome adds to the excitement.
Players to Watch
All 46 of them. They are amongst the very best rugby players in the world and they are primed to do their best. Not one of them will be blasé, certainly not Kieran Read with 122 caps or Tendai Mtawarira with 111 caps. Nor will Sevu Reece with just three caps be overawed or Herschel Jantjies with five caps. The players will be too absorbed into the great occasion to be put off by their own feelings.
The viewer, too, is most likely to be too caught up in the match to pay attention to individuals and yet just maybe Cheslin Kolbe will produce a moment of magic for South Africa or Ardie Savea a Herculean effort for New Zealand.
Head to Head
Tactic versus Tactic, simplistically put – boot versus hands. The weather forecast is that it will be raining on Saturday, which may make handling harder for the All Blacks and kicking even more likely for the Springboks. But wet weather is hardly new to New Zealanders who have on occasion produced magic rugby in the wet, and the Springboks are likely to do much more than kick the ball away to feed the counterattacking brilliance of Beauden Barrett.
Part of tactic will be the Springboks destructive defence and the All Blacks’ skill to get through it.
Goalkicker versus goalkicker, Handré Pollard and Frans Steyn versus Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett. Here South Africa would seem to have the upper hand. Pollard kicks at a success rate of over 80 percent, while Barrett and Mo’unga are in the Sixties. And then there is the booming boot of Frans Steyn, goaling from inside his own half. But even in the kicking there are no certainties as so much depends on the where and when of the kick at goal.
Then there are battles – breakdown versus breakdown, scrum versus scrum and line-out versus line-out, that is getting possession in as usable a way as possible. And when the ball is there to be used, midfield versus midfield in a creativity contest, speed versus speed and vision versus vision. Then there is the important battle of bench versus bench and the impact two powerful benches will have on the momentum of the match.
There are also individual battles – broadsword Damian de Allende versus rapier Ryan Crotty, artful scrumhalf Smith versus nuisance scrumhalf De Klerk, the battle of strength and energy between Pieter-Steph du Toit and Ardie Savea and the four speedsters out on the wings looking for half a chance Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa versus Sevu Reece and George Bridges of New Zealand.
Last 12 results
The venue does not seem to have been a factor recently. South Africa won and drew in New Zealand, and New Zealand won in South Africa. But South Africa have had longer to acclimatise in Japan and the 23 chosen for Saturday had a good match practice against Japan.
Results against Common Opponents in the Rugby Championship
Argentina: South Africa won 46-13; New Zealand won 20-16
Australia: South Africa won 35-17; New Zealand lost 47-26
The last three matches are probably most significant and they have produced a win apiece and a draw and a points’ draw at 82-82.
Betting at the World Cup is off-limits for players and team staff, but not for the rest of us and, according to bookmakers, the All Blacks are favourites. But we think the Springbok pack may get on top and their backs may just stifle New Zealand creativity to produce a narrow Springbok victory. But even if things turn out that way, nobody can predict the wilful bounce of the ball, the errant eye of an official, the sudden error of a skilled player, the silliness of a card, jaundiced yellow or hectic red.
But our big prediction is that it will be an intense match, played by star players – no quarter asked or given but played in an honourable way so that when they shake hands at the end they can be the handshakes of friends. And we hope that it will be free of any controversy or argument, a match great for rugby and for the millions watching it.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 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.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Ben Smith.
Date: Saturday, 21 September 2019
Venue: International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama City
Kick-off: 18.45 (21.45 New Zealand time 11.45 SA time 09.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Showers with a high of 20°C and a low of 16°C and humidity of over 75 percent
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)