Boks, ABs set for epic battle

Steve Hansen (AFP)
Steve Hansen (AFP)

Auckland - New Zealand will face their toughest test since the 2011 Rugby World Cup final when they take on South Africa in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.

The All Blacks have not lost a Test match at Eden Park since 1994 and haven't been beaten by the Springboks at the Auckland stadium since 1937. But the South Africans have already made history in this tournament, breaking their winless streak in Brisbane where they beat Australia last weekend, and they enter the Auckland Test unbeaten in nine matches.

"If you were to say to me who is our greatest foe then you'd have to say that is South Africa," All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said. "Both these teams have been one or two (in world rankings) or thereabouts as long as I have been here."

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was no less effusive, calling the All Blacks "the best team in the world" and describing Saturday's match, between teams unbeaten after three rounds of Rugby Championships matches, as "a big step up" for his side.

"I truly believe this is going to be the ultimate challenge - tougher than we've ever had before," Meyer said. "It's a great challenge. I love being in New Zealand, and that's the mindset - we can't wait to get on the field."

During his many successful seasons in Super Rugby, Meyer built a reputation as a coach in the more traditional South African mould: bent on set piece domination, control of field position and accumulation of points through penalties as a first resort.

The Springbok team that beat Australia so convincingly last week - while given a firm purchase in the match by their giant forward pack - showed themselves capable of far more than a 10-man style.

"I always get criticised for playing a boring game," Meyer said. "I'm really happy with the way we're scoring tries.

"I'm really happy that we're scoring tries but on Saturday I'll take a one-point win. I'll take the ugliest win in the history of the game."

The All Blacks expect a physical contest on Saturday, especially for the tackled ball and in that area they may be under-manned by the loss of captain Richie McCaw to a knee injury.

Sam Cane will play his 10th Test in McCaw's place on the openside flank and Liam Messam has been recalled to the blindside flank because he is seen to provide a more physical presence than the youngster Steven Luatua.

Hansen said he felt no surprise at the comprehensive nature of the Springboks' win last weekend.

"They've been good all season," Hansen said. "They're trying to play some rugby as well as keeping their physicality. They've sped up their game. They're using their backs a lot more.

"Our execution has to be spot on, because it's the two best sides in the world playing. Whoever executes the best on the day will get the chocolates."

In order to beat the Springboks, and to keep alive a winning streak at Eden Park that stretches back to their loss to France in 1994, the All Blacks will have to improve on last weekend's error-ridden win over Argentina. In a rain-drenched match the teams had a combined total of 41 turnovers.

Kick-off is at 09:35 (SA time) on Saturday.


New Zealand:

15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock

Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau

South Africa:

15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss , 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Juandré Kruger, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein

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