Ahead of kick-off, we have taken a look at a few of the key battles which could go a long way to deciding the outcome of New Zealand vs South Africa.
Richie Mo’unga v Handre Pollard
Mo’unga’s Super Rugby form was simply outstanding as he guided the Crusaders to yet another title. His performances were hard to ignore, and he has been given the No 10 jersey ahead of Beauden Barrett who switches to full-back. The Springboks will need to be on their toes as not only is Mo’unga a wonderful distributor, but he loves to attack with ball in hand. With Sonny Bill Wiliams outside him, really look for him to attack the line.
Pollard is also oozing confidence and will also be looking to take the ball right up to the gain line – no doubt he will take a run or two up Mo’Unga’s channel just to test his defence.
Pollard’s boot will also need to be spot on for the Springboks to make the most of their chances, but his tactical kicking will also need to be on point against a very dangerous All Black back three.
TJ Perenara v Faf de Klerk
Perenara was at his influential best for the Hurricanes in Super Rugby and will be expecting to take that form into Saturday’s game. He will want to supply quick ball for his backs and also get the big bok forwards turning around with some astute box kicking. He will also need to keep his head if the Springbok pack get on top though.
De Klerk is central to South Africa playing with pace and puts a lot of pressure on the opposition in both attack and defence. De Klerk loves a gap around the ruck and maul area but his tactical kicking and option-making have to be on point.
We’ve lumped all four players together as they will be tearing strips out of each other come Saturday. In the All Blacks corner, you have Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, arguably the two best second rowers in world rugby at the moment. Eben Etzebeth may have something to say about that as he teams up with Franco Mostert who is no slouch himself.
Bok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot is well aware of the capabilities of Retallick and Whitelock and says they have certainly raised the bar in terms of what is expected from your second-rower.
“Things change with every generation,” said Proudfoot. “Ten years ago it was maybe more set-phase orientated. When you look at the two of them, their work has expanded. Watching Brodie taking an intercept at the weekend, second-rowers doing that kind of work, they’ve shifted the bar, as every generation does.
“I think the line-out and the four second-rowers and what they get up to are going to be a fascinating part of the game. Defence, carrying the ball up, contesting the ball up in the air… it’s such a magic part of the game and what these big guys can do.
“It’s just indicative of where modern rugby is, how these big guys can put that work in.”
All four have massive engines and a combative nature that means they never give anything less than 100%. The lineout will be a key area for both sides – The All Blacks stuttered a bit in this area against the Pumas. However, it is also what they do around the paddock that will count – big carries and even bigger hits will the order of the day for these men.
Sonny Bill Williams v Damian de Allende
Both seem to be getting a bit of stick for being selected – Williams because he has not played much, and de Allende because bok fans want more of a playmaker in that role.
For Williams, it is about getting some game time and to remain on the field as long as possible. His injury woes are well documented, and this is a final chance to show the selectors he is back to full fitness. His playmaking ability makes him very dangerous and with Mo’unga taking the ball to the line, it could cause some serious problems for the boks. Also expect to see full-back Barrett carving through the centre off a trademark SBW offload.
De Allende showed some impressive moments for the Stormers and has worked hard on other aspects of his game. He is a big unit and carries hard but his kicking game has certainly improved as has his passing and offload skills. His defence will be key on Saturday and he will need to really be all over Sonny Bill to prevent him getting the ball away. With Frans Steyn on the bench, De Allende will want a strong performance to silence the naysayers.
Matt Todd v Kwagga Smith
Both selections were slightly left field from their respective coaches and this could well be their last chance to earn a seat on the plane to Japan.
Todd will certainly want to make the most of his chance with likes of Sam Cane and Ardie Savea rested this weekend. He is an absolute workhorse – so much of what he does goes unnoticed – but he is always there making a massive difference. A ferocious tackler, he is also superb at the breakdown and links well too.
Smith has worked hard to make the transition from a Blitzbok Sevens star to the 15-man game but his consistency for the Lions has certainly paid off.