The second-day clash in the Rugby World Cup between the Springboks and arch-rivals New Zealand is of extraordinary interest to the general rugby fan because of the signs of vulnerability of the All Blacks in recent seasons.
Yes, the All Blacks are still regarded as the best, notwithstanding the World Rugby rankings where they have slipped from first place for the first time in more than a decade. But it is also true that they have lost their aura of invincibility.
Saturday’s match is a first-round pool match, and it is a fact that in the past eight WRC tournaments no champion was crowned after suffering a defeat in the pool rounds. However, notwithstanding a defeat in this particular match, Saturday’s losers are strongly touted to still make it to final.
The All Blacks have injury problems, some stars are out of form and they have suffered defeats to the Springboks and the Wallabies in the past year.
They have met four times in previous RWC tournaments: in the 1995 final, in 2015’s semi-final, in 2003 in the quarter-final and in 1999 in the play-off for third place. They now complete the permutations when they meet in a pool match for the first time with their RWC victories standing at two-all.
The two best sides in the history of the game will play with different tactics. The team selection by the All Blacks points to a run-at-all-costs by the New Zealanders; the Boks will play where their strength lies now as has mostly been the case since they first started playing international rugby 128 years ago, with their forwards where they have quality and depth at the moment.
Kicking for territory and only then chancing their arm will be the Springboks game plan, and the expected wet and even muddy field will strengthen their resolve and execution if it does rain, as is forecast. That will also not suit the All Blacks, who will have more slippery balls from kicks to contend with and running and passing could become a real challenge.
South Africa’s kicking, even in the wet, will have to be pin-point, and their vaunted defence will not be allowed a single error in a match that should be close.
The absence of injured ball carrier Matt Todd forced the All Blacks to play the outstanding Ardie Savea as blindside flank. Not as skilled in the carrying art as Todd, he is an extra fetcher – but that is something the Springboks have overcome in recent times with all eight forwards adept at fetching at the breakdowns, where the match could be won or lost.
But there are so many factors that can decide the result. The referee is Jérôme Garcès, a good ref but at times slightly hot-headed, a man who can be described as volatile. Will the TMO pick up transgressions and make the right decisions, and will there be the sort of silly errors that can decide a match?
The All Blacks remain the favourites, the Boks will be under scrutiny to see how they play and fare against the favourites.
Whatever happens, it should be one of the great clashes in World Cup Rugby since South Africa first took part in 1995.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 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.
15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody. Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Ben Smith.
Expected weather: Showers before and during the match.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Karl Dickson (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)