Preview: South Africa v New Zealand

Date published: October 3 2014

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It's been six years since South Africa managed back-to-back wins over New Zealand and Saturday's clash between the world's top two teams represents an important chance to lay down a marker.

Last year's last-minute victory for the Springboks in Johannesburg – only their second win over the All Blacks since 2009 – ended a three-year losing streak against their great rivals. 

Self belief can be an elusive thing and that result was a massive mental boost for the Boks in their quest to regain the World Cup, but it will mean very little if they can't repeat the feat this weekend.

Much of this week's build up has been focused on the playing personnel. Given the experimental nature of certain selections, it's impossible to look at the match from any other perspective other than the road to the World Cup.

Indeed, under no other circumstances would the All Blacks pick a rookie fly-half when they have three other perfectly fit, world-class playmakers at their disposal. Lima Sopoaga's fantastic Super Rugby season earned him a crack at the black 10 jersey, but throwing him into the deep end – a Test against the Boks Ellis Park is as deep as it gets – is a very bold move. 

Likewise, starting with a flanker who has only played a handful of games this year when facing the world's number 1 ranked team can only be described as a gamble. Heyneke Meyer admitted as much.  

One must also question why Heyneke has waited this long to roll the dice with Heinrich Brüssow. The answer lies in the injury to Duane Vermeulen and the subsequent loss of his outstanding skills on the deck. Starting with two scavenging opensides is a significant departure from the previous strategy of using a bruising ball carrier like Willem Alberts on the blindside. 

Although it seems a bit late to be redesigning gameplans, the extra speed and mobility that this new-look Bok loose trio brings will be key to addressing the threat posed by Aaron Smith, who, if given half a chance, has the ability to dictate proceedings. 

None of these experimental selections alter the fact that at the root of the rivalry between these sides lies a contrast in philosophies. 

It was interesting to note this week that while Steve Hansen was calling for a change to the laws around mauls to prevent teams like Argentina building strategies around simply kicking to the corners for lineout drives, Meyer was lamenting his side's poor tactical kicking in Brisbane. 

Meyer insists that the All Blacks kick as much, if not more, than his team but the stats from Round One of the Rugby Championship tell a different story and point to Kiwis' greater ability to adapt their game.

New Zealand, wary of Argentina's set-piece strength, kicked from hand just 11 times in their win over los Pumas. By contrast, the Boks chose to use the boot 27 times, despite the fact that they had one of the world's best counter attacking full-backs waiting to collect their bombs.  

That is not to say Saturday's visitors will not use their excellent kicking game to seek territory, but it will not be their default course of action. And it will certainly not be predictable.   

That said, the Springboks do have the tools to beat the All Blacks. With Bismarck du Plessis an additional threat at the breakdown, the hosts have the capacity to gain the lion's share of possession. But if Handre Pollard, Ruan Pienaar and Willie le Roux cheaply give it back to the All Black back three, there can be only one result and the Jo'burg crowd won't like it.

As always in these clashes, the game is likely to be decided in the final quarter, when the New Zealanders' superior fitness has often proven to be the difference. The Springbok bench does not hold a huge amount of experience but home-town boys Warren Whiteley and debutant Lionel Mapoe will hope to make an impact, as will rookie prop Vincent Koch.  

Having already lost their opening game and yearning that aforementioned self confidence, there is a lot more riding on this game for South Africa than their visitors, who will feel far less pressure but will have no less motivation. 

Team news: Brüssow will make his first start for the Springboks since the 2011 Rugby World Cup on the openside flank, moving Francois Louw to the other side of the scrum, where he takes over from the injured Marcell Coetzee. In an enforced change, Cornal Hendricks starts on the wing in the place of JP Pietersen, giving Mapoe a chance off the bench. Fellow debutant Koch is one of five changes to the bench.

Sopoaga and James Broadhurst will make their All Black debuts at fly-half and in the second row respectively as they take over from Dan Carter and Luke Romano in a total of seven changes to the New Zealand starting line-up. Dane Coles returns at hooker with Liam Messam at blindside flanker. Aaron Smith is back at scrum-half, while Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith are reunited in midfield. Ben Smith is on the right wing as Julian Savea drops out after an asthma attack during training.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: There aren't many players in history who can boast a 100% win record against the All Blacks, but Heinrich Brüssow can with four victories from his four matches against the World Champs. After four years in the international wilderness and having played just six Super Rugby games this year, his selection is the subject of hot debate but his poaching skills at the breakdown are undeniable. Having slimmed down during his stint in Japan, the Cheetahs flank is faster than ever. His battle with Richie McCaw is set to be a highlight.  

For New Zealand: Fly-half Lima Sopoaga faces a baptism of fire. The Highlanders pivot played a massively influential role in his team's Super Rugby title winning campaign with his accurate kicking – both from and the tee – and has his strength in playing flat to the defensive line. But Test rugby is a step up. He will, however, have the luxury of playing outside his franchise halfback partner and inside a very experience midfield duo. If he has the nerves to deal with the big time, he could be a joker in the All Blacks pack – if not now, then certainly in the future. 

Head-to-head: Securing quality possession will not only be the responsibility of the back-rowers but also the tight five and the battle between debutant James Broadhurst and Lood de Jager will be intense. De Jager was impressive when he came off the bench to replace Victor Matfield last week and he will need to back up that performance in the absence of South Africa's lineout mastermind. Broadhurst has had a fantastic Super Rugby season and is the kind of lock New Zealand has "been waiting for" according to Hansen. South Africa has normally enjoyed the edge in the second row battle, that may not necessarily be the case on Saturday. 

Previous results:

2014:South Africa won 27-25 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
2014: New Zealand won 14-10 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
2013: New Zealand won 32-16 at Eden Park, Auckand
2012: New Zealand won 32-16 at Soccer City, Johannesburg
2012: New Zealand won 21-11 at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
2011: South Africa won 18-5 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
2011: New Zealand won 40-7 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
2010: New Zealand won 29-22 at FNB Stadium, Johannesburg
2010: New Zealand won 31-17 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
2010: New Zealand won 32-12 at Eden Park, Auckland
2009: South Africa won 32-29 at Rugby Park, Hamilton
2009: South Africa won 31-19 at Absa Stadium, Durban
2009: South Africa won 28-19 at Vodacom Park, Bloemfontein
2008: New Zealand won 19-0 at Newlands
2008: South Africa won 30-28 at Carisbrook, Dunedin
2008: New Zealand won 19-8 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Prediction: Who would be brave enough to call this one? It may take the home pack a while to settle and the inexperience of their bench is a concern. The Boks won it at the death last year, but it may swing the other way this time. New Zealand by less than five points!

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements:  16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lionel Mapoe.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messsam, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Victor Vito, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa

Date:  Saturday, 25 July
Venue: Emirates Airlines Park (Ellis Park), Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT, 12:05 ART, 01:05 AEST, 03:05 NZST)
Weather: 14°C at kick-off. 60% chance of thunderstorms
Referee: Jérôme Garcès
Assistant referees: Romain Poite, Leighton Hodges
TMO: Graham Hughes

By Ross Hastie

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