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The greatest rivalry

On Saturday at Ellis Park in Johannesburg we will see a battle that has been ongoing for the best part of century and is still regarded as the greatest rivalry in the game.

There is no doubt that when the Springboks and All Blacks go head-to-head, it is something majestic, and has a magical effect on that proportion of the world's population who have any interest in this sport that is played with an oval ball.

It was like this since I was a barefoot boy running around in the streets and my brain was barely able to process this complicated game with its complex laws … starting in the mid-1960s.

The Springboks and All Blacks first met on the rugby field on August 13, 1921 in Carisbrook, Dunedin. They have faced each other in 88 Tests – which the Kiwis won 51 times and SA 34, with three that ended in a draw.

Their last meeting was just over two weeks ago in Wellington, New Zealand, when the All Blacks narrowly prevailed 14-10.

In the more than nine decades since that first meeting in the 'House of Pain' very little has changed – though sometimes there was a landslide or two.

However, back to 1970, when this battle of the giants first grabbed my interest – so much so that I had an argument with my former primary school teacher, who had the audacity to tell me that I can't make a career out of rugby.

"You will have to choose another career, get a real job," she sneered at me in front of the entire class.

Guess what Madam, I did make it my career – maybe not as a player, but I did.

And, incidentally, it is still the biggest event in the sport, even now in the professional era.

Like they will this week in Johannesburg, Brian Lochore's All Black class of 1970 was recognized as the world's No.1 team – well deserved too.

But the Springbok does not give up without a decent fight.

The Springboks won the 1970 series three-one.

After they won first Test in Pretoria 17-6, the All Blacks bounced back in a brutal battle in Cape Town (where Fergie McCormick knocked out two of Syd Nomis' front teeth) and won with 9-8. In the third Test in Port Elizabeth, the Boks retaliated, literally, by not only using McCormack as a floormat, but also with a 14-3 win.

And then they 'dethroned' the All Blacks in one of the most classic Tests – when Dawie de Villiers was carried from the field on the shoulders of ecstatic fans in Johannesburg, after his team won 20-17 (and secured a series win).

Incidentally, the All Blacks are no longer allowed to play at Newlands, because – as they did in 1970 already – they usually win there and they can also count on the support of a lot of the local residents.

But back to 1970 and that historic series, with Gerhard Vivviers' iconic and inspired words still ringing in my ears: 'Syddie, Syddie, Syddie … you beauty [jou doring]! "

This followed an intercept try by the wing, Nomis.

Yes, it was brutal, very BRUTAL.

But, as will be the case on Saturday, they shook hands, showed each other the utmost respect and shared a few cold refreshments together.

There are iconic names in both teams, but that Springbok team photo still has pride of place in my first scrapbook, now safely stored away … for who knows.

Men like Mof Myburgh, Piston van Wyk, Tiny Neethling, Piet Greyling, Joggie Jansen, Gert Muller, Frik du Preez, Mannetjies Roux, Dawie de Villiers (as captain), Jan Ellis, Piet Visagie and Syd Nomis adorned the Bok emblem.

Among my favourites in the All Black team was that scrumhalf with a back-pass that would make Sonny Bill Williams look like an amateur, Sid Going, along with the the only black player in Bryan Williams (of Samoan descent) and of course the legendary PINETREE (Colin Meads), who completed the match against the then Eastern Transvaal with a broken arm.

Just as I was before that fourth Test at Ellis Park in 1970, I am childishly excited about this Saturday's big battle between the two top teams in the world.

Win or lose, it will be a huge battle that all experts of the game will enjoy.

Just to wet your appetite, take a look below at a few excerpts from the 1970 series!

By Jan de Koning



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