Boks have All Blacks 'on edge'
The Springbok would love to claim the underdog tag, but they have made a big enough statement to ensure they can't fly under the radar.
The Rugby Championship's unbeaten runaway leaders, New Zealand and South Africa, will go head-to-head in a decisive Round Four encounter in Auckland on Saturday.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer had done his best to talk up the All Blacks and claim the underdog tag for his team in the early stages of the build-up.
However, the Kiwis claimed the visitors pose the greatest challenge to the All Blacks since they won the World Cup back in 2011.
Veteran centre Conrad Smith, who spoke of the need for senior players to step up in the absence of injured captain Richie McCaw, said the Boks' strong showings against Argentina and Australia had the All Blacks on edge.
"It's early in the week, but the guys sense how big this game is and how well the Springboks are playing, so I think that has added to it," Smith told a media scrum.
He admitted the Boks have added an expansive dimension to their game that is a real concern to the All Blacks – with the Boks having scored 14 tries in the first three rounds to the All Blacks' 11.
"When they are playing expansively and chancing their arm a bit, that's when we know we're in for a real battle," Smith said.
"You know you're always going to get physicality against the Springboks but when they are playing really well with the ball in hand it poses a real threat and like I say, it's something to get excited about.
"We're up against a team that's coming in with form, we always respect whoever we're playing but it didn't take much looking at that Springbok performance to know they're playing some really good footy.
"If we're not up to the mark we're going to come second so that strikes a bit of fear and hopefully that brings out the best in us."
There is another aspect that concerns the Kiwis, a new desire by the Boks to win at venues where they have not been successful for a very long time.
South Africa broke a 42-year drought against Australia in Brisbane last Saturday.
Their track record in Auckland is even more dire, with the Boks having last won in New Zealand's largest city back in 1937.
The closest the Bok came was in 1904, when they played to an 18-all draw at Eden Park.
Since then the Boks have won just three of 19 Tests against the All Blacks in New Zealand – their 32-29 Tri-Nations clinching win in Hamilton in 2009 the most recent.
Not surprising then there was plenty of "war talk" in the early stages of this week's build-up.
"It's always war I suppose in some ways when we play the Springboks," Smith said, adding: "We expect nothing less and as I say, that's what we enjoy.
"We're certainly viewing it as the biggest challenge probably since the World Cup for us so we're prepared for a big game and I know they will be as well.
"For me, personally, those are the battles I enjoy the most. Mainly when I play over there that's more of a challenge in South Africa, but playing them at home is just as enjoyable and pretty brutal as well.
"It's everything you could ask for I suppose in a game of footy."
To add to New Zealand worries is the fact that in a week in which they lost their talismanic skipper, the Boks were given a clean bill of health.
Bok team doctor Craig Roberts revealed there are no major problems – just the usual bumps and bruises.
Prop Jannie du Plessis has a laceration to his lip, wing Bryan Habana got a boot in the groin and was uncomfortable, while centre JJ Engelbrecht has a little bit of a corked thigh.
Roberts also revealed that there are no jetlag issues.
He said the team would always be in better physical shape in week two of a tour, compared to last week when they needed to cope with a travel schedule that saw them leave Mendoza, spend a few days in South Africa and then head across the Indian Ocean to Australia.
"The jet lag issues are over now," the doctor said, adding: "It is only a two-hour time difference from Australia [to New Zealand], so from that side of things it is nice for us.
"The guys are sleeping properly for the first time in eight days – it does make a difference."