Editors Note: This article is co-authored by Kyle Willoughby (a Kiwi) and Richard Ferguson (a South African)
In possibly a sporting first, a Kiwi and a South African have combined their insights to preview the epic top of the table clash between rugby’s two greatest superpowers. This weekend sees the maruading Springboks, fresh of their historic victory over the Wallabies in Brisbane taking on the mighty All Blacks in the hallowed turf of Eden Park in Auckland.
Both teams are undefeated. Both teams have ably demonstrated they deserve to be top of the table. This weekend however, only one team will maintain their perfect record.
While many will be expecting entertaining rugby, Richard advises only the true rugby supporter and can take joy from a tussle of rugby between giants that is set to be won only on penalties, these teams are so evenly matched.
Having a look at the Springboks, there is a lot that can be said, both positive and negative, ahead of this match.
From the match against the Wallabies, and having watched the All Blacks so far this year, the Boks will feel they have a clear advantage at scrum time. The tight five nailed the Aussie scrum to the point that they only had one gear, and that was reverse. The Boks will also take confidence from the fact that the All Blacks had a tough time of it in the scrums against the Argentinians. This platform will be of great importance if the Boks want to win this match.
The Argentinians monstered the All Blacks scrum pack, and the South Africans bring an intensity at scrum time few can match. If the All Blacks give away too many penalties they are going to find themselves challenged by this dominance, and a Springbok team full of quick ball movers and the sheer speed of Brian Habana.
Further, the loss of Richie McCaw has taken some of the gloss off the battle of the loose trios, with the Springboks having the clear upper hand going into this match. Francois Louw, Duane Vermeulen and the fourth loose forward Bismarck du Plessis will make sure the All Blacks take care at the breakdown.
That said, Kieran Read does bring a strong sense of leadership to the team, and has shown his impact in the game with charge downs and huge runs already this series.
As for areas in which the Springboks can improve, their backline is an area of concern. Although four tries were scored against Australia, the backline only really made one of those tries, and the fact that JJ Engelbrecht, one of the more potent runners in the Bok backline, hardly had any ball to work with, is a concern. That comes down to the fact that the Boks follow a game plan of keeping the ball amongst the forwards and then kicking for territory. The All Blacks backline is filled to the brim with potent runners and with Dan Carter running the show, do not be surprised if we see a few great breaks from the flyhalf.
The key player for the Springboks will be Morne Steyn, and with that Ruan Pienaar will be equally important. Pienaar will have to lift his game if he is to shine against the All Blacks, and an improved game from him will give Steyn a few extra second to make the play. Steyn’s goal kicking has been sublime in the three previous matches, and his continued accuracy is key for South Africa to keep the scoreboard ticking.
From the All Blacks point of view Steyn was and is a danger man. While their is a huge depth of talent in this Springbok side, Steyn has been nothing short of brutal this series. His accuracy with the boot, and his involvement in game play is incredible.
As for the All Black dangerman, it is difficult to only pick one. Dan Carter is an obvious choice, a commanding performance from him will see the Springboks struggle to keep up, but it is the performance of the backline that will be the key in this match. If Conrad Smith and co can get over the advantage line for the All Blacks, they can nullify the effect of the Bok pack and win this match at a canter. It will be interesting to see what impact the return of Liam Messam has on the team as well. Israel Dagg and Messam already have a strong working relationship together, however Messam’s return does the (hopefully temporary) benching for the electrifying Steven Luatua.
Both of us believe this match is that it will be colossal, with extreme hits and plenty of penalties as these teams only have the greatest respect for each other.
As for a winner…Richard would love to say the Boks will take this, but he believes the All Blacks are the most difficult team to beat at home, and it will take a mammoth performance from the men in Green and Gold to take this match. Kyle for his part is loathe to disagree with his obviously knowledgeable colleague.
The All Blacks have made five changes to their team for this weekends test, Messam returns as does Ma’a Nonu. Owen Franks returns at tighthead, and Sam Cane will start the game on the field as well.
Whatever the result, this is a game that is going to be remembered as one of the biggest of the season. A southern hemisphere Clash of the Titans which will show us who is the best in the series…and possibly the world
Thanks for reading, you can follow us on Twitter @recaffeinated99 and @richfergie; as well as our fellow LWOS rugby writer – @Daniel_Ford_1 . Give the site a follow while you’re at it – @lastwordonsport.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? Find more info at our “Join Our Team” page.