It is one of rugby’s fiercest rivalries, but can the Springboks return to past glory when they take on the All Blacks in Wellington this weekend?
The two proud rugby nations have done battle 95 times since 1921, with New Zealand winning 57 times, South Africa 35, and three draws playing out over the course of 97 years.
South Africa had the better of their opponents before the game turned professional, but since then the reigning world champions have pulled away from the 2007 World Cup winners.
Can the Boks change their fortunes and reignite their rivalry with the All Blacks? Here are five talking points ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash, live on Sky Sports…
Hosts ahead in history and form
If the Boks are to win this weekend they will have to overturn a fair amount of form. The All Blacks have claimed bonus-point wins from each of their three outings in the Rugby Championship while the South Africans have won only once in the first three rounds.
New Zealand vs South Africa
September 15, 2018, 8:00am
The All Blacks have also won the past six matches between these teams and 11 of the previous 12. The Springboks have only won three times in New Zealand during the Tri-Nations and Rugby Championship era; in 1998, 2008 and 2009.
They are now staring down the barrel of a decade of hurt on New Zealand soil, which isn’t a good return when you have an annual meeting in the diary.
Add to that, the last time South Africa played the Kiwis on their own turf it was a record-breaking 57-0 hiding. You’d be hard-pressed to find any man in the Bok camp who hasn’t thought about that game while walking around Wellington this week.
Back three and the aerial battle
Among seven changes to his side, Hansen has moved to counter the Springboks’ expected kicking game with Jordie Barrett returning to full-back, Ben Smith moving to the right wing and speedster Rieko Ioane returning from injury to fill the left wing slot.
“It’s an aerial game and we’ve got two big aerial athletes,” Hansen said. “We don’t have to explain why Rieko’s there. He’s best player in his position in the world, I think. He’ll give us some genuine gas.”
Ioane certainly is a lethal finisher, but it’s the work in the air of the other two that should scare Rassie Erasmus more. Smith is one of the world’s best under the high ball, while Jordie Barrett’s height alone makes him an asset on a kick chase.
Conversely, the South Africans are weak in that area. Aphiwe Dyantyi – an undoubted talent – remains largely untested at international level, while Jesse Kriel and Wille le Roux have recently made basic handling errors in the green and gold under aerial attack.
Cheslin Kolbe, the man on the bench for the visitors, is 5ft 7in, so although he remains a side-stepping threat when on the ground, he’d struggle to compete in the air with the likes of Smith and the younger Barrett, who is 6ft 5in.
Traditionally it’s the Boks who like to kick in a Test match, but in Wellington the All Blacks will likely kick out of hand more often than their opponents, testing the Springboks’ handling as well as their resolve.
Strong finishing and bench balance
New Zealand are known as a side who finish strongly, and their last four victories against the Springboks demonstrate that fact – in all but one of them, they were losing the game at half-time. Whether it’s superior fitness, mental strength, or good squad depth, New Zealand seem to be able to play at a high tempo throughout 80 minutes.
The Boks will be wary of that face at Westpac Stadium. If New Zealand’s starting XV wasn’t strong enough to get the job done, the backs they are waiting to unleash this Saturday are TJ Perenara, Jack Goodhue and Damian McKenzie – all three capable of breaking the line and taking advantage when the opposition defence inevitably tires.
On the Boks’ bench is Kolbe – who has just one international game under his belt – and Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies, the Lions half-backs who have take their team to three successive Super Rugby finals, but have struggled to make the step up to Test level.
Conversely, the Springboks may have a slight edge when it comes to the forwards among the replacements.
Beast Mtawarira offers plenty of experience, while Bongi Mbonambi played well against England in June, and the only blot on his Rugby Championship copybook is that overthrown lineout which led to a Matt Toomua try in Brisbane last week.
Tighthead prop Wilco Louw is a strong scrummager, and RG Snyman is a real injection in the loose when introduced. Francois Louw, covering the back row, has not lit up the Boks they way he has in the past, but has plenty to offer Erasmus.
New Zealand’s bench of Liam Coltman, Tim Perry, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu and Ardie Savea seems a little green in comparison – though Savea was one of Hansen’s stand-out performers against Argentina in week three.
Set piece dominance
In all three of their games in the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks have had the ascendancy in the set piece; perhaps surprising when you consider the Pumas would consider it a focal point of their play.
Not only were the Kiwis on top of the opposition at the scrum in those games – winning numerous penalties – but they also plundered possession at the lineout, stealing off the Australian and Argentine throws seemingly at will.
The Boks were on top of Argentina in Durban in the opening weekend, but were blown out of the water in Mendoza a week later. At Suncorp Stadium in week three things were slightly more even – though you could argue the South African’s had the edge, it wasn’t by much.
The All Blacks have shown they are capable of amassing big totals with few opportunities. Last week the Pumas had more possession and more territory than Hansen’s side, but were beaten by over 20 points.
South Africa’s chances of springing a surprise victory in Wellington will be slashed ten-fold if they are unable to dictate proceedings up front in Wellington.
Does Erasmus know his best side?
In Erasmus’ seven games in charge of the Springboks, Elton Jantjies has worn the No 10 jersey three times, and Handre Pollard four times.
Rather than that rotation exemplifying depth and competition for places, the pair have struggled to stamp their mark for the Boks – bar perhaps Pollard’s performances in the first two Tests against England in June.
The constant switching at fly-half is a reflection of how things have gone under Erasmus, who has the appearance of a coach plugging holes after four losses from seven. However, he says the side he has picked for Saturday – which sees three new faces and one positional switch – reflects the best currently on offer to him.
“We are trying to fix South African rugby long term. We don’t want to have a crash course and be in survival mode and just pick a bunch of guys and just win the next Test match,” Erasmus said.
“This team we’ve selected is pretty much the closest to our strongest available team… I really think after this game we will know where we stand with South African rugby currently.”
Erasmus said his preference for Pollard to start against the All Blacks was also influenced by his preparations for next year’s World Cup.
“We try to mix and match to see what we can take to the World Cup, who can handle the pressure in different situations,” he said.
“Elton is a guy with wonderful vision, he can dictate the game very well, but I think Handre brings that physicality, that size, that direct play that we need against the All Blacks.”
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Owen Franks, 4, Sam Whitelock, 5 Scott Barrett, 6 Liam Squire, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Kieran Read (c).
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Jack Goodhue, 23 Damian McKenzie.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 1 Steven Kitshoff, 2 Malcolm Marx, 3 Frans Malherbe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8 Warren Whiteley.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.