Preview: New Zealand v South Africa

Date published: September 12 2014

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The top two sides on our planet face off this weekend in Wellington, as New Zealand play the Springboks in the Rugby Championship.

The top two sides on our planet face off this weekend in Wellington, as New Zealand play the Springboks in the Rugby Championship.

There's just no contest like this one. Many are unique – England v Scotland, England v France, anything Bledisloe – but the All Blacks against the Boks, particularly with them being number one and two in the world, feels extra special.

Ellis Park last year provided a perfect example when we were universally blown away by not just the rugby played, but also the officiating. It's not often we've said that recently, is it?

Referring back to last year's game though has to be done with a bit of trepidation, because hoping for another Test of that quality might be asking too much. If we get a game anywhere close, be content.

Prayers to the weather gods are encouraged too, given that at the time of writing the forecast of a 'chance of rain' is a worry.

However, foul conditions weren't a bother for New Zealand last weekend. Every time the rest of the world starts getting excited about a potential weak spot the All Blacks patch it up.

Worries over their scrum against Argentina were ultimately unfounded. New Zealand didn't just hold their own – they won a tighthead at the end of the first half that produced the crucial moment of the game when Liam Messam scored.

Argentina generally, however, kept New Zealand honest as they had done in the previous two weeks against South Africa.

Make no mistake, the rain in Napier was an utter hindrance, but also complaints and criticism that the All Blacks didn't put a half century on the Pumas are disrespectful. Beauden Barrett wasn't quite at his best, his perfect pass for Julian Savea's second try aside, with the lineout letting a couple of throws go astray.

But it's just nitpicking. In the lashing rain New Zealand managed to make 400 metres with the ball in hand – that's more than either Argentina or South Africa made in the Salta sunshine two weeks previously.

Going through the Rugby Championship stats over the first three rounds is almost like reading an All Blacks roll of honour.

Five more tries than the next side, seven more clean breaks. The highest tackle success rate, the joint-best scrum, the most yellow cards (well that's actually a bad stat, but only one team is unbeaten).

Those extend to individuals too. Richie McCaw is the top tackler (41). Kieran Read has taken the most lineouts (14). Julian Savea is the top try scorer (3), pipping his captain. Savea, Ben Smith and Aaron Smith have all made the most clean breaks (4).

All three of Australia, South Africa and Argentina can have their passages in a match where they will play better than New Zealand. But none of them can do it for 80 minutes like the All Blacks can. And none of them take as many chances.

Being clinical must be one of the most overused requests in sport, yet it's so hard to do consistently.

South Africa's task therefore is to buck the trend and force the All Blacks into making mistakes.

The rage towards referee George Clancy for sin-binning Bryan Habana was completely justified, but to ignore the list of areas and moments where the Springboks should have done better to win the game themselves would be ignorant. They threw it away.

Rarely is a match between these two previewed without a mention of each side's respective immense physicality and yes, the Boks do have enough heavy forwards and strong tacklers to potentially force knock-ons and slow down the pace of the ball. But they need something different too.

Heyneke Meyer's realisation that to defeat New Zealand you have to do something a little different is truly refreshing.

“It is a big call, but if we don't do it now we're never going to know what he can do and I think this is the right game to do it. I don't think you're going to beat the All Blacks if you just do the conventional.”

Which is why three months on from losing the Junior World Championship Final on Kiwi soil, Handré Pollard is back but now as the Springbok fly-half, charged to take down the world champions on their own turf at the age of just 20.

Morné Steyn has been an established force in this Bok line-up now for years, but he doesn't even make the bench. Pollard's task with just three Test starts under his belt feels completely enormous.

Hopefully, Pollard's inclusion will produce South Africa's best rugby. Miles off their best against Argentina the Springboks were better in Perth, but remain some way off their peak.

The onus on kicking ball for territory hasn't gone away based on the carrying stats, with South Africa's 212 way behind Australia's 350, while the same can be said for the low number of defenders beaten (32) compared to the leading number of 56 and an alarming total of just 11 offloads.

South Africa's great shortcoming in this championship though has been their scrum, the worst ranked in the competition with a 75 percent success rate. The outlook here isn't a new topic but you have to fear how an out-of-sorts unit will fare against New Zealand.

That all said, there are two areas where the Springboks have dominated – the ruck area and the lineout. Leading both categories is a testament to the good work of Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee especially, along with Victor Matfield's presence in the second row with 14/14 lineouts won last weekend.

Except once South Africa had the ball they didn't do enough with it. Aside from the try for Cornal Hendricks, the cutting edge was misplaced. This is where Pollard's inclusion is key; the hope that he can create more chances but also ensure they're finished off.

It feels wrong to expect South Africa to win in Wellington based on their rough start to the competition, but then the All Blacks misfired in Sydney before thrashing the Wallabies.

The chatter of New Zealand crumbling has been wiped away in the last two games. For the Boks, even with two wins from three, there is so much to improve on.

Ones to Watch

For New Zealand: The latest blindside. Steven Luatua steps up to the plate with Jerome Kaino and Liam Messam both sidelined. New Zealand's riches are ridiculous. Luatua, a great athlete, will add some power.

For South Africa: The centurion. Congratulations to Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers on reaching what is still rightly seen as a remarkable landmark in a player's career. He becomes the fifth Springbok to do so after John Smit, Victor Matfield, Percy Montgomery and Bryan Habana.

Head to Head: The scrum battle between Wyatt Crockett and Jannie du Plessis will attract attention, but it's the two numbers fours who stand out. Brodie Retallick is in the form of his life,

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