New Zealand’s all-conquering All Blacks seek to extend dominance over South Africa’s Springboks
With the business of another Rugby Championship title locked up, the All Blacks can move on to something a little more personal: Extending a run of dominance over the Springboks that’s transformed a once-fierce rivalry into a one-sided procession.
New Zealand goes into Saturday’s test in Cape Town seeking a sixth straight win over South Africa, a 15th win in their last 17 meetings, and a fifth win in their last six games in South Africa.
New Zealand’s last two games against South Africa have been record wins, 57-15 last year in Durban for South Africa’s heaviest defeat ever at home, and 57-0 last month in Albany for the Boks’ heaviest defeat ever and one of its biggest humiliations.
Most onlookers don’t expect anything other than a clear All Blacks win at Newlands, and the rivalry appears to be fading.
The ruthless All Blacks have not missed an opportunity to hammer home their advantage.
Four key players missed the trip to Argentina last weekend and instead arrived in Cape Town early to rest up and prepare for the South Africa test. They have all been restored to the All Blacks starting line-up: Lock Sam Whitelock, flankers Sam Cane and Liam Squire, and centre Ryan Crotty.
Instead of using fringe players in what is a dead rubber, coach Steve Hansen has picked his strongest possible team.
“We’re playing a team that will be hurting incredibly after Albany, I’d suggest, and we need to make sure we meet that and continue growing and developing ourselves,” Hansen said.
There’s been little fighting talk from South Africa.
“The All Blacks will again test us in every department,” Springboks coach Allister Coetzee said. “They don’t seem to have any weak areas, so we will have to show that we’ve learnt from our experience in Albany.”
South Africa isn’t at full strength, either.
Openside flanker Francois Louw has shifted to No 8 to fill in for the injured Uzair Cassiem, his first test start in the position. Pieter-Steph du Toit, normally a lock, will play on the flank. Prop Steven Kitshoff starts his first test after 18 appearances off the bench in place of Tendai Mtawarira, with South Africa’s most experienced player missing for family reasons.
For the pacesetting All Blacks, there’s a chance to match their 6-0 clean sweep of the championship last season, and to win a test at Newlands on their first visit to the ground since 2008. Part of the reason South Africa kept New Zealand away from Cape Town for so long was apparently the large contingent of local fans who support the All Blacks.
Saturday’s test may resemble a home game for the visitors – just when the Springboks need all the help they can get.
“We know we have a huge fan base here and the hospitality and reception we have received from the local folks has been fantastic,” Hansen said. “We look forward to their support.”