Saturday's test at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington will be one with mouth-watering individual positional clashes and most probably two diverse tactical approaches, with neither expected to be the final clincher in what promises to be a scrap in the old-old tradition between these two sides.
In the end, it will be guts and the implementation of their respective tactical plans, discipline and perhaps a measure of luck that will provide the winner with a little more confidence comfort before they meet in their Rugby World Cup pool match on September 21.
Considering that 11 of the 15 Springboks who started last September and 17 in the 23-man squad will again do duty compared to six starting All Blacks and a dozen in their squad point to either of two things: the Springboks are more settled in their team selection, which is a positive; or the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen feels he has enough quality for this battle but is still experimenting with the huge talent pool he can to select from.
How the backs measure up
The Springbok pivot Handré Pollard, who has a dual challenge to combat the mercurial and sometimes unpredictable Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf in one of the interesting direct clashes throughout the field, also has the job to direct the play carefully to keep the dangerous play-making back-three All Black unit of wings Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith plus the great footballer Beauden Barrett at fullback in check.
His difficult challenge will be made slightly easier as there will be no rain, but the Wellington wind could really test him.
Much has been written about the unexpected selection of Barrett at fullback. News from New Zealand is that this was a move long planned and worked on and what’s more: it isn’t a first for Barrett. Lethal on the run, his linking with the wings and, or that matter any one of the other 14 ball players in his team, could determine the outcome.
And what about the possible clash at inside centre when Frans Steyn is sent on where he will face Sonny Bill Williams, depending on when the two teams’ replacements are brought on and also in what position Steyn will be employed
There is the mercurial running of Cheslin Kolbe to look forward to. If he can emulate his performances in the Top14 in France at this higher level, it could provide the Boks with good going-forward attack. But he also has the job of keeping the much bigger and very dangerous Ioane in check.
an exciting skilled All Blacks centre pairing of Jack Goodhue and Williams pairing against a great defensive duo in Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am who in turn must get over the advantage line; and then of course the two scrumhalves, TJ Perenara and Faf de Klerk, the first a complete player in this position who slots in beautifully with his team while De Klerk’s big heart and often sniping play is an All Blacks danger.
His tactical options and kicking and especially the placing of his kicks will be crucial.
And of course, Willie le Roux if he is on form, could be another danger to the home side.
The scrum should provide another great battle where Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks are up against Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff in two proven front-rows, as will be the introduction of Kwagga Smith in his role as a turn-over expert and also a player with the rare ability to keep attacks going with his support and linking runs.
Up front there is also the tough, abrasive Springbok captain Duane Vermeulen’s clash with his opposite in position and captaincy, Kieran Read; the slogging lock play of Franco Mostert and aggression of Eben Etzebeth against respectively Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, probably the world’s number one lock; Pieter-Steph du Toit’s class around the edges and driving a little further out with Shannon Frizzell as his direct adversary, with Matt Todd who must do the job that Kwagga Smith does in winning turnover ball
But then, so much will also hang on the timing and deployment of the replacements.
♦ South Africa simply must get more possession than last year, when they had to make 235 tackles, the All Blacks only 61.
♦ Pollard summed up the clash as follows to the New Zealand media: “Of course we would get confidence from it and get one over them (if the Boks win, that is). But the World Cup is a whole different show - away games for both teams and a lot more intense."
For now, however, the All Blacks seem the better side, and they should win by more than a single score.
15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 George Bridge.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Kick-off: 09:35 SA time
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)