Springboks and All Blacks set for explosive showdown
Winner of Rugby Championship decider could deliver significant psychological blow ahead of World Cup
The next World Cup may still be two years away, but today's Rugby Championship decider between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park could provide an early psychological blow for the victor.
A bruising physical battle is expected between the top two sides in the world rankings, with the return of both Bismark du Plessis and Richie McCaw adding steel and guile to what is shaping up to be an explosive fixture.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has made no secret of the fact that he has selected his team for this year's series with England 2015 in mind, and beating the current world champions would be a huge affirmation of his plans.
"This is probably the last year to experiment before that World Cup," Meyer said recently. "We have some guys coming back from injury in the next few months, so I believe that we have a strong group of players going forward.
"We've got very high standards, we want to be the best team in the world and we want to win the World Cup."
Meyer reiterated that South Africa would not be reckless in their pursuit of the bonus-point victory needed to lift them above the All Blacks in the table.
"Obviously it would be great to win the game and the Championship, and we are in with a chance. I never said we're going to go out and score four tries. We're just going to go out there and try and play positive rugby.
"It is very difficult playing against the All Blacks as they've only conceded seven tries in the last eight test matches. Nobody has scored four tries against them for the last eight, maybe nine years, and in those days the defence was not as organised.
"We've got a plan but it is a difficult task … they are a quality side and just to win the game will be a massive challenge for us."
The All Blacks last conceded four tries in a 26-24 loss to Australia in a Bledisloe Cup match in Hong Kong three years ago.
Du Plessis has been restored to the starting line-up ahead of Adriaan Strauss as Meyer continues to rotate his hookers. The Sharks front-rower will get a chance to redeem himself with the All Blacks after he was red-carded in Auckland last month.
McCaw missed that 29-15 victory for New Zealand with a knee injury, but now returns to make his 120th appearance in the team's most important fixture since the 2011 World Cup final.
McCaw will likely be a central figure in the breakdown, an area that has been vastly improved for South Africa in 2013. But Meyer also believes the boot will play a pivotal role and said the All Blacks have held the edge kicking out of hand in recent times.
"They've got a great running game, but what makes them so effective is their kicking game.
"They outkicked us when we played in Soweto [in 2012] and we couldn't get out of our half - they kicked 12 times more than us. So if we want to beat them even before we start scoring tries, we have to match them."
Steve Hansen expects the Springboks to play a more expansive game.
"The Springboks at Ellis Park is a challenge the team is really looking forward to, one we are very excited about," Hansen said.
"We know South Africa will come at us with their physical game but to win the Rugby Championship they'll have to do that by scoring four tries.
"We are expecting more ball movement than we have seen in the past. The answer is pretty simple for us. We will have to match their physicality and be very accurate with our execution across the park."