Preview: South Africa versus New Zealand
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND SIX: The game has that growling rivalry back – South Africa versus New Zealand.
Since 1921, has there been any rivalry like it in the world of rugby?
It’s on again at Loftus Versfeld, which was sold out soon after it became possible to buy a ticket.
It was no doubt that that match in Wellington, New Zealand, has lit the old fuse again, and there could well be an explosion at Loftus as giants bang into each other.
The Springboks know that they can win; the All Blacks know what it feels like to be beaten – a worse experience at home than abroad.
The Springboks know they are going to have to tackle like demons – or Pieter-Steph du Toit – and the All Blacks know that have got to turn opportunities into points, even if it is the boot that must provide them.
In Wellington, they learnt that points from the boot really can count.
The All Blacks have changed No.12, No.13, No.14 and No.15 in their backline, which is a lot.
But in the pack, there is just one change. Liam Squire is injured and effective Shannon Frizell takes his place
South Africa also has a loose forward injured. Warren Whitely – remember his great tackle on Thomas Perenara in Wellington?
He is out injured.
New Zealand has changed both centres. South Africa had to change one, because Lukhanyo Am is injured.
For the Springboks, replacing Am produced two changes – as Jesse Kriel moved in from the wing and Cheslin Kolbe came onto the wing.
South Africa have changed No.12, No.13, No.14 and No.8.
Changes, but the essence of the game will be the same – a physical clash in an effort to create scoring opportunities.
In Wellington, the All Blacks won more possession than the Springboks (75 percent) and ended the match stronger, but the strength of Springbok commitment and the weakness of frantic All Black thought gave the Springboks a victory that set the nation rejoicing.
Style of play counts.
If the Springboks go on with their unprofitable box kicks against Ben Smith, they could find themselves in terrible trouble against the best counterattacking team in the universe.
Players to Watch
The teams are not quite the same as they were in Wellington three weeks ago, but there is not a single player in the 46 that is not worth watching. Some will catch the eye with flashes of brilliance but some deserve a closer look as they toil efficiently to provide for their team. In other words, it could also be a tight forward.
If the All Blacks carry on with their method of running straight and passing at waist-height in front of the player next to them, they could severely test South African defences out wide, especially if they go down the right, for Dyantyi, a willing and effective tackler, may find getting into position difficult.
For South Africa: The wings – Aphiwe Dyantyi and Cheslin Kolbe – on the attack. Both players with speed and dazzling footwork. Francois de Klerk, who can in flash from casual meandering to explosive action. Pieter-Steph du Toit, the action man with a powerful battery that never seems to wear down. Malcolm Marx in the hope that he has all his energy back.
For New Zealand: Ben Smith – so skilled, so fast, so able to turn defence into attack, so safe under the high ball. This time he is in the position where he can be most effective. Rieko Ioane – a strong, fast wing who scores tries. If Beauden Barrett returns to the fullness of his powers, he could have an immense effect on the game. Anybody who ousts Ryan Crotty must be exceptional, and Jack Goodhue has done that. Perhaps they are looking for size and speed to get past the Springboks’ defensive line.
Heady to Head: The Battle of the Bantams – scrumhalf versus scrumhalf is always interesting, and this time it’s Francois de Klerk versus Aaron Smith. Can’t see Faf taking a step back. Centres versus Centres – big men with speed on both sides at No.13 and strong, direct men at No.12 – with wily improvisations from Sonny Bill Williams. This is a battle which could have a great impact on the game. Front Row versus Front Row. Last week the All Black front row annihilated the Pumas. Even allowing for the waning power of Puma scrummaging, it was an impressive performance. Can they get one up on the Springboks in similar fashion? Eben Etzebeth versus Sam Whitelock in line-outs and in physical confrontations. Kicker versus Kicker – Handré Pollard versus Beauden Barrett. They are both kickers who have had off days of note but both are kickers who usually have on days. In Wellington three weeks ago, Pollard scored 11 points with his boot, Barrett 4. The Springbok winning margin was two. But really it is Springboks versus All Blacks, 15 versus 15 at a time.
Home ground is an advantage apparently. South Africa beat Argentina in South Africa but lost in Argentina. Australia beat South Africa in Australia but lost in South Africa. South Africa beat New Zealand in New Zealand. And now? South Africans tend to see Loftus as a bonus for their side – aggressive crowd, altitude, heat. Loftus waar dit rof is.
New Zealand has an 80 percent success rate at Loftus. The last time the Springboks beat the All Blacks there was 58 years ago. Since then New Zealand has scored 164 points at an average of 41 points per match!
They have, it seems, flourished on the firm surface and the absence of wind – and have stuck their tongues out at the crowd.
Prediction: After winning the most recent fixture 36-34 in Wellington, South Africa will be gunning for back-to-back victories against New Zealand for the first time since they won three on the bounce in 2009. New Zealand have won their last three games against the Springboks on South African soil; they have never won four straight games playing away to South Africa. South Africa have a win rate of 77 percent at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, having lost just eight Test matches at the ground – however four of those losses have come against New Zealand, with their only victory against the All Blacks at this venue coming in 1970. Since Argentina joined the competition in 2012 the All Blacks have never lost more than one match in a single edition of the Rugby Championship, winning 34 of 38 games in that period, the last time they suffered two defeats in the tournament was during the 2011 Tri-Nations. New Zealand have conceded a total of 60 points to South Africa in their two most recent encounters; in the four games prior to this, they conceded a combined total of just 46 points to the Springboks. New Zealand have averaged the most metres gained (650) and defenders beaten (36) per match in The Rugby Championship 2018, while South Africa have recorded the lowest tallies in these categories (360 metres and 19 defenders beaten). New Zealand and South Africa both successfully converted all their goal attempts last weekend (each kicking five from five), the first time either side had done so in this year’s tournament. The All Blacks have conceded the most turnovers in The Rugby Championship this year (91), while South Africa have won the most (39). New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane has scored 20 tries in just 19 Tests for the All Blacks, including four in three games against the Springboks. South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth has won 26 line-outs in this tournament, the most of any player and 10 more than New Zealand’s best Kieran Read (16). Last time we did not believe Steve Hansen, the New Zealand coach, when he said words to the effect that the Springboks would win. This time the Kiwi soothsayer is not picking a winner. Instead he says: “We’ve got two teams that are going to go at it – two big bulls in the bullpen, and it’s last man standing.” He is not suggesting a draw but he seems to suggest that the winning score could come in the last minute. In Wellington the All Blacks ended on the attack but the Springboks warded them off. Perhaps, at Loftus, the Springboks will end stronger, and perhaps they will win by four points. Just perhaps!
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Francois Louw, 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 Vincent Koch, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse.
New Zealand: New Zealand : 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Date: Saturday, 6 October 2018
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT; 04.05 New Zealand time)
Expected weather: Sunshine with a high of 28°C and a low of 12°C
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
By Paul Dobson
* Statistic provided by Opta Sport