All week, the anticipation of the North v South match has been building. Player’s have been flying the colours of the province where they made their debut in first-class rugby.
It is still a conversation but, the All Blacks selectors chose that criteria, and the players have accepted it. On Saturday night in Wellington, the men representing each island of New Zealand, will set out to show that they are the best in their position.
That pits Richie Mo’unga up against Beauden Barrett. Patrick Tuipulotu captains the North, facing his World Cup teammate Sam Whitelock [leading the South]. And TJ Perenara faces off with Brad Weber.
👀 ICYMI | Here are your teams for the Steinlager #NorthvSouth clash this Saturday.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 3, 2020
The two line-ups give fans the first taste of rugby at the elite level – with no International test matches, it is ‘as good as it gets’.
(Note: due to Covid-19 restrictions, Sky Stadium will not have fans in attendance)
Flying their Provincial Colours: North v South teams
With the sides selected, on Friday the captains run for each group is the final chance to set out their objectives. While it is a ‘mate against mate’ situation, knowing your opposition so well is a considerable advantage. John Plumtree has coached many of the players he leads, as has Brad Mooar.
So familiarity between the players is a massive benefit, and a drawback.
The South team is filled with many leading names from the Crusaders – as it should. The Super Rugby Aotearoa title holders are the form players. The North v South match is recognition of your position, and even while Rieko Ioane may relish his opportunity at center for the North, it is the combination of him with Anton Lienert-Brown that is the test. Not his match-up with Braydon Ennor alone.
Connections between the groups are how the coaches see it. How the Hurricanes players combine with the Blues. In the back row, Ardie Savea gets his run at number 7 while the Blues duo of Akira Ioane and new boy, Hoskins Sotutu look to carry on their connection from Super Rugby.
— Stuff.co.nz Sport (@NZStuffSport) September 3, 2020
Savea had started to look at home in the eight jersey, yet selection at openside is something Plumtree knows the strong Hurricane can achieve. “We all know Ardie is a special player and either position he’s pretty comfortable.”
Yet knowing your opposition is of great benefit too. The front rows will have stood opposite and beside their opponents. It will make for a fierce contest, with the techniques in the scrum being judged on pressure, as much as combined strength.
All Blacks coach’s looking at every variable
“This is not an All Black trial. Everyone might be seeing it that way, and maybe in the old days they saw it as an All Black trial,” Plumtree said.
“These boys have come together to win a trophy and we’ve got the luxury of sitting back and watching them go. We’ve already seen them go for 10 rounds of derby games. This game is about them and New Zealand enjoying the talent we’ve got in this country.”
And enjoying it is what fans will want. They might like to see a ‘festival of footy’ yet, the strict controls will limit the opportunities for loosehead props to chip-and-chase the ball. Expect a grounding in true NZ Rugby basics first and foremost.
What you will see, is a wide group of men from different provinces, joining collectively. It will be ‘as close as it gets’ to the All Blacks (with International rugby still set on hold).
With excitement machines like Will Jordan and Caleb Clark on the wings, natural enthusiasm and giving player’s their time to shine is one factor. Substitutes might enter as early as the 50th minute; which is not to say the replaced man is not playing well. It is all about balancing the needs of the game vs those of the national selector’s vision.
In a North v South match, it is about tradition, provincial pride, and coming together as a group. Challenge the opposition, then shake hands, and await the All Blacks squad announcement on Sunday.
North v South – Saturday, September 5. 7:10pm, Wellington
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