Midfielder Conrad Smith says that a clash with the Springboks always brings the best out of the All Blacks, reports JON CARDINELLI in Auckland.
On Monday, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer spoke of his respect for New Zealand rugby, and how he had grown up with the ambition to battle the All Blacks at Eden Park. Indeed, it's a dream shared by many South African schoolboys. To play for the Boks against the All Blacks ... it doesn't get any better than that.
Smith used this exact phrase when asked about Saturday's showdown between the world's top-ranked sides. The All Blacks are the world champions as well as the No 1 side in the world. They will be hosting the Boks at a venue where the South Africans have not won since 1937. The Boks have won just three times in New Zealand over the past 15 years. New Zealand will be the favourites to win this Saturday.
And yet, there is a healthy respect for what this Bok side is capable of when taking traditional and current form into consideration.
'It's a big occasion, and considering how well the Boks have been playing of late, well, it adds an extra edge to this game,' said Smith, one of the leaders in this All Blacks side. 'It's the biggest challenge for us since the World Cup. It's something I'm very excited about.
'There's always respect for an opponent, but I can tell you that it doesn't take much for you to get up for a game against the Boks. It's the biggest challenge to play them in South Africa, but it's also a massive thing to play them at home. You can't ask for much more.'
Those who would question Smith in terms of the All Blacks' motivation and drive for dominance need only reference the previous match-up at Soccer City in October 2012.
The All Blacks had already secured the Castle Rugby Championship title before the final round of the competition. They were able to stay motivated for that final fixture, and beat a desperate Bok side 32-16 on the Highveld.
The Boks have progressed since that fixture, winning nine Tests in succession. The forwards and backs have started to combine effectively, and as seen in the most recent performance against the Wallabies, the Boks are capable of scoring some fantastic tries.
'They're always physical, but when you see them playing expansively and moving the ball around, then you know you're in for a real battle,' noted Smith.
Smith is set to be reunited with Ma'a Nonu in the All Blacks midfield. Nonu was rested for last week's game against Argentina, but his experience will certainly be needed in a Test of this nature. That midfield combination has been central to some famous All Blacks victories over the years, and, of course, the 2011 World Cup final itself.
Kieran Read will lead the side this Saturday, with Richie McCaw missing the game because of a knee injury. While Smith admitted the All Blacks will miss the 118-Test veteran, he didn't give the impression that the team would be crippled by McCaw's exclusion.
'It's a big blow but you have to deal with it. It just raises the expectations of the other blokes in leadership positions. We dealt with it earlier in the season [in the June Test series against France], so we will have to step up once again.'
Smith also said that the energy of Eden Park could be what gives the hosts an edge.
'It has special significance given that we won the World Cup there in 2011. We also get good numbers there in terms of support.
'You try not to think about these things in terms of statistics, but more about where you enjoy playing. It is certainly one of those places.'
Photo: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP Photo
SA Rugby mag’s Test Team of the Year
JON CARDINELLI picks the best 23 players of the 2013 Test season.
Du Preez’s attracting attention
Former Kings flank Cornell du Preez has been in good form for Edinburgh and could go on to play Test rugby for Scotland. GAVIN MORTIMER reports.
How Mandela saved the Springbok
Once synonymous with oppression and apartheid, the actions of former president Nelson Mandela gave the Springbok emblem new meaning to all South Africans, wrote MARK KEOHANE in a 100-year anniversary article in 2006.