Planet Rugby

Preview: South Africa v New Zealand

05th October 2012 07:21


SKY_MOBILE Richie McCaw and Jean de Villiers New Zealand South Africa

Brink of a milestone: 100 wins for Richie McCaw?

It's only been a rugby venue for a few years but Soccer City is fast becoming synonymous with milestones and 100 seems to be the (un)lucky number.

Two years ago, South Africa were on the verge of sealing a memorable victory for John Smit as the country prepared to celebrate the 100th cap of a great leader. Until it all went wrong in the dying seconds when Smit missed a tackle on Ma'a know how the story ends.

The All Blacks are back on the Highveld as another iconic captain sits on the brink of setting an impressive record.

If New Zealand win - and in the process complete a clean sweep of the inaugural Rugby Championship - Richie McCaw will become the first player to notch up 100 Test victories.

It would be a mammoth achievement that very few players will ever be able to realistically aspire to. IF it happens against the Springboks, the All Blacks' greatest rivals, it would truly be a memorable occasion. (It will also move the All Blacks within one win of their record for consecutive victories -17, dating back to 1969 - and two away from the world record currently held by Lithuania.)

But King Richie shouldn't count his chickens just yet.

Saturday's hosts are looking pretty sharp, as the second-string Wallabies found out last week. It was a great performance that went a long way to turn the tide of criticism and sparked a wave of optimism for a new era of Springbok rugby.

But it's a misconception that the Springboks have adopted a new style or are suddenly playing fantastic attacking rugby. What few people recognise is that Boks made a whopping 185 tackles at Loftus- the most they've ever made, and more than double they made against New Zealand at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

While the buzz on the streets is that Johan Goosen has transformed the Boks into an brilliant expansive side, the stats reveal that they only carried the ball 80 times in Pretoria. Sure, Goosen took his options very well, but the truth is the Wallabies did the bulk of the attacking and most of the Springboks' tries originated from turnovers from Aussie mistakes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Goosen isn't a great addition to the side (because he clearly is a class act) but it would be naive in the extreme to expect the Springboks to fling the ball about against New Zealand and win.

Expect a similar approach to last month's clash in Dunedin, where South Africa would have won if they had capitalised on their opportunities.

With their focus placed so heavily on forcing the opposition into mistakes, the great problem of the Bok attack - for years now - has been their excruciating predictability. What South Africa fans are craving is the willingness to have a tilt at unlocking the opposition defence from a first phase/set piece moves and there is no better team in the world at that than Steve Hansen's current crop of men in black. They don't need always need a string of phrases to set up an attack. Clean line breaks remain the ultimate way to create try-scoring chances and they are masters at doing it.

But they will need to bring their full bag of tricks to get past the green and gold wall. Unlike last week in Argentina, where the All Blacks had the benefit of a southern hemisphere referee who kept the rucks clean, they will not enjoy the luxury of having bucket-loads of quick ball on Saturday as they face a serious challenge from a young South African pack that is growing in stature and confidence by the week.

Indeed, Meyer can rightly be chuffed with the progress made by his new-look team. Yet the question remains, have they progressed enough to stop the world champions, who are riding a wave of confidence? We'll find out soon enough.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: Bryan Habana might have been in the spotlight last week (and he is in great form) but Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen were the real stars of the show. It's no coincidence that they have played the least amount of rugby of anyone in the Bok team over the last six months. They are simply bursting with energy and their work at the breakdown could provide the key the victory for the hosts. Another guy feeling fresh, Coenie Oosthuizen, is only likely to play 20 or 30 minutes but he'll come off the bench breathing fire. The Bok coach reckons he has the potential become "true great of all time," so expect him to make a real impact.

For New Zealand: The All Blacks finally clicking in Argentina was in no small measure down to the contributions of Ma'a Nonu and Kieran Read. The big centre is getting back to his barnstorming best while the vice-skipper was dishing out offloads and passes that most number eights can only dream about. Israel Dagg had a quiet game by his standards last week but he expects to get given a fair amount of ammunition in Soweto - if he fires, it'll spell trouble for the Boks.

Head-to-head: Johan Goosen is good, very good, but Dan Carter is the best there is, the best there ever was, hell, he could be the best there ever will be. As our guest columnist mentioned this week, fly-half is the most important position on the field: The playmaker needs to make the most important decisions in the most important games. DC has set the benchmark against which all tens are measured so we will get an insight into Goosen's true potential.

Previous results:
2012: New Zealand won 21-11 at Forsyth Barr Stadium in 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 Soccer City, 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
2007: New Zealand won 33-6 at Jade Stadium, Christchurch
2007: New Zealand won 26-21 at Absa Stadium, Durban
2006: South Africa won 21-20 at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg
2006: New Zealand won 45-26 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

Prediction: New Zealand are the only team to enjoy regular success in the Republic. They have a habit of turning up the heat in the last 20 minutes, exactly when the Boks have struggled a bit. That, combined with the Kiwis' vastly more experienced side, leads me to back the All Blacks to win by less than five points.

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Elton Jantjies, 21 Juan de Jongh, 22 Pat Lambie.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Tamati Ellison.

Date: Saturday , October 6
Venue: Soccer City, Soweto
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT - Sun 7 Oct 4:00 NZT)
Weather:Partly cloudy. 30C max but cooling rapidly
Referee: Romain Poite (France), Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

By Ross Hastie in Johannesburg

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