The following is a preview of the Round 4 Rugby Championship clash between New Zealand and South Africa at Eden Park in Auckland. The game kicks off at 5:35 PM AEST on Saturday, the 14th of September. The referee is Romain Poite from France.
Both sides are undefeated in this year’s competition. South Africa currently top the Rugby Championship standings courtesy 2 four-try bonus points to New Zealand’s 1. Below are their respective results so far this competition.
Australia 29-47 New Zealand
New Zealand 27-16 Australia
New Zealand 28-13 Argentina
South Africa 73-13 Argentina
Argentina 17-22 South Africa
Australia 12-38 South Africa
In head-to-head meetings, the All Blacks have won five of the last six, including the last four games played in New Zealand. The Springboks will be out to avenge their home 16–32 loss in last year’s Rugby Championship. That defeat was on the back of a 21-11 loss in Dunedin. Below are the most recent results in New Zealand.
2012: New Zealand 21-11 South Africa (Dunedin)
2011: New Zealand 40-7 South Africa (Wellington)
2010: New Zealand 31-17 South Africa (Wellington)
2010: New Zealand 32-12 South Africa (Wellington)
2009: New Zealand 29-32 South Africa (Hamilton)
Captain Richie McCaw is out with a knee injury for the next four to five weeks so Sam Cane gets the No. 7 jersey with Kieran Read taking over the captaincy. Ma’a Nonu and Liam Messam have recovered from injury and return to the starting line-up. With Andrew Hore expected to retire at the end of the Rugby Championship, Dane Coles has been given the start at hooker.
15. Israel Dagg, 14. Ben Smith, 13. Conrad Smith, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 11. Julian Savea, 10. Daniel Carter, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Kieran Read (captain), 7. Sam Cane, 6. Liam Messam, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Brodie Retallick, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Dane Coles, 1. Tony Woodcock
Reserves: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Charlie Faumuina, 19. Steven Luatua, 20. Matt Todd, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Charles Piutau.
Several players have been struggling with the flu during the week, however South Africa have named an unchanged 23-man squad.
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Willie le Roux, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Morne Steyn, 9. Ruan Pienaar, 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Francois Louw, 5. Flip van der Merwe, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Reserves: 16. Adriaan Strauss, 17. Gurthro Steenkamp, 18. Coenie Oosthuizen, 19. Juandre Kruger, 20. Siya Kolisi, 21. Jano Vermaak, 22. Pat Lambie, 23. Jan Serfontein
The All Blacks have said that despite the error count in wet conditions last week they have no intention of toning down their expansive running game. They should be more fluent in attack this weekend with Ma’a Nonu slotting back into the squad, as Francis Saili was a bit hot and cold last week on debut. The Springboks have been playing a similar brand of high-tempo rugby, so this should be an excellent game for the neutral. Unfortunately, the weather forecast suggests a strong chance of rain, so hopefully the wet weather won’t act as a dampener.
The All Blacks will certainly miss captain Richie McCaw for this critical Test, however Kieran Read is an experienced and capable stand in skipper. Sam Cane will wear the No. 7 jersey, and while he is a few kilos lighter than McCaw, McCaw has not been at his absolute best since his sabbatical. Another player who’s not in top form is Dan Carter, who made some uncharacteristic misses with his shots for goal last week.
The All Blacks boast a fantastic record at Eden Park, having not lost there since 1994, however the Springboks will be confident after overcoming a previous hoodoo in Brisbane last week, recording their biggest ever win in Australia. They spoke at length about the need for mental toughness in the build-up to last week’s game and they certainly delivered on that front. The Springboks physically dominated the Wallabies and kept the Australians tryless for the first time since 2001. Most of the ascendancy came in the forwards, with the Springboks out-muscling their Australian counterparts. The Springboks disrupted the Wallabies set pieces and will no doubt target these areas against the All Blacks.
The Springboks love playing the All Blacks because they feel it’s the “ultimate challenge” in world rugby. They come into this fixture on the back of nine straight Test wins and they feel they have an excellent chance to win this fixture. They have been guilty of being too one-dimensional in recent years, but lately they have been playing a more open style, keeping the ball more and making heavier use of their talented back line. When you combine that with the physicality they bring to every game, the All Blacks will be severely tested on Saturday.
I expect a physical encounter on Saturday, with neither team running away with it. I tip the All Blacks to win, but given the form of the Springboks and the sub-par kicking performance of Dan Carter last week, I would back the Springboks +8.5 at 1.91 (Sportingbet).
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