The world champions have, once again, been the dominant force in the southern hemisphere’s premier international competition and a bonus-point victory in this fixture against their traditional foes will secure them a third successive tournament win for New Zealand.
The men in black have been in superb form and are sitting pretty at the top of the Rugby Championship table with 15 points after notching bonus-points wins in their three matches against Australia (twice) and Argentina.
By contrast, the Springboks have found the going tough and apart from a hard-fought victory over Argentina in their tournament opener in Durban, have little to crow about as they suffered a defeat against the Pumas in the rematch in Mendoza and also lost to Australia in Brisbane last weekend.
The Springboks are a far cry from the side who started their international campaign on a high when they claimed a 2-1 series victory against England in June. They head into this clash with confidence at a low after those setbacks to Argentina and Australia.
The Boks were their own worst enemies in last weekend’s defeat to the Wallabies in Brisbane as they committed too many unforced errors. A similar performance could see a repeat of last year’s corresponding fixture against the All Blacks in Albany when the world champions cruised to a 57-0 victory.
Despite being overwhelming favourites, the All Blacks expect a tough assignment against the Springboks, who will be determined to return to the victory trail and in doing so claim their first win on New Zealand soil since 2009.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster believes his side are in for a tough assignment against a dangerous opponent.
“We’ve got to prepare to play a team that is going to turn up and play the best game of the year,” he said.
“We always look at ‘what-ifs’ and how they’re going about it.
Foster said he had observed that South Africa had started to trust a more expansive game in recent years and the two countries had played some classic, and very exciting, games during that time.
“We expect that but it is going to be based on a collision and a toughness, you have got to win that battle in any Test but you certainly have to win it this week,” he added.
“We know that if we get our mindset right and our detail in our game right that gives us our best chance of playing well and winning, so there comes a point in the week that we don’t spend a lot of time in the week talking about the opposition, it’s more about us.
“They love the collision, they’re tough there, they carry hard. They take a lot of pride in their set-piece work and they’ve got some backs that really enjoy space out wide if we give it to them. They’ve got a lot of speed.
“It’s not so much are they playing different, it’s just some of the tactics within each part of the game and when you put them under pressure it’s where they go to under those pressure moments and that’s probably what we spend most time looking at.”
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: The All Blacks have plenty of attacking threats but keep an eye on their chief playmaker, Beauden Barrett, who has been brilliant in his two previous appearances – both against Australia – in this year’s tournament. Barrett delivered a virtuoso performance in the second Test against the Wallabies in Auckland in which he finished with a 30-point haul including four tries. That showing will be hard to repeat but the 27-year-old’s brilliance knows no bounds and if his forwards can provide good front-foot ball to him, it could be a long day at the office for the Bok defenders.
For South Africa: If the Springboks want to upset the apple cart their forwards will have to play out of their skins and one player who is expected to lead their charge is their hooker, Malcolm Marx. The 24-year-old is out to prove a point after starting on the replacements bench in the Boks’ narrow defeat to the Wallabies in Brisbane last week. At his best, Marx is arguably the best hooker in the world with his ball carrying and phenomenal work at the breakdown particularly impressive. He will be determined to hit the ground running in Wellington.
Head-to-head: The battle out wide between All Blacks flyer Rieko Ioane and the Springboks’ Jesse Kriel is an intriguing one as both players will be determined to prove a point, albeit for different reasons. Ioane makes his first appearance since the tournament opener against Australia in Sydney – where he sustained a hamstring injury – while Jesse Kriel is occupying an unfamiliar position as he shifts from his preferred outside centre berth to the right wing where he replaces the injured Makazole Mapimpi. On paper, this is a mismatch as the 21-year-old All Blacks is one of the world’s best wings while Kriel’s lack of experience in his new role could prove to be his undoing. It will be interesting to see how the Springbok adapts on the wing, especially defensively against such a superb finisher.
2017: New Zealand won 25-24 in Cape Town
2017: New Zealand won 57-0 in Albany
2016: New Zealand won 57-15 in Durban
2016: New Zealand won 41-13 in Christchurch
2015: New Zealand won 20-18 in London (RWC semi-final)
2015: New Zealand won 27-20 in Johannesburg
2014: South Africa won 27-25 in Johannesburg
2014: New Zealand won 14-10 in Wellington
2013: New Zealand won 38-27 in Johannesburg
Prediction: This will be another one-sided affair with the world champions cruising to an easy win. New Zealand to win by 25 points.
New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 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 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Cheslin Kolbe
Date: Saturday, September 15
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Nic Berry (Australia)
Television match official: Rowan Kitt (England)