Julian Savea is likely to end his try-drought against the Springboks in Christchurch this Saturday as the All Blacks go chasing another bonus-point win, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The All Blacks are the No 1-ranked side in the world. They have won their last 14 matches, and another big win on Saturday could see them clinching yet another Rugby Championship title.
They've been described as the best Test side of all time, and one of the best sports teams of all time. It's hard to argue with that when you consider that they've won 55 of their 60 matches since 2012.
And yet, they continue to raise the bar. In this year's Rugby Championship, they have lifted their performance in just about every department.
What's more, the New Zealand media and public continue to demand a greater improvement. Many have noted that the Boks, in their current guise, are there for the taking.
One Kiwi scribe has gone as far to say that the All Blacks must be 'ruthless' this Saturday. Coach Steve Hansen has said that his team will take nothing for granted despite their 57-22 win against Argentina last week.
It's all looking rather ominous for the Boks.
Julian Savea was outstanding for the All Blacks in the recent fixture against the Pumas. After battling with his fitness at the start of the season, the All Blacks winger has rediscovered that blend of speed and power that has often led many to compare him to the great Jonah Lomu.
Of course, no All Blacks-Springboks clash would be complete without comparing Savea's record to that of the great All Blacks No 11. Savea has scored 42 tries in 46 Tests, while Lomu scored 37 in 63. What Savea and Lomu have in common is a tryless record against the Boks.
That could change in Christchurch this Saturday. Indeed, Savea and the whole All Blacks backline will fancy their chances against a Bok defence that lacks size, synergy, and physical presence.
Savea scored a try against Argentina last week by coming into the line after a successful All Blacks scrum. You can bet on the All Blacks employing a similar move against the Boks should they receive a scrum deep in opposition territory.
Elton Jantjies has had his issues on defence this season. Ireland centre Luke Marshall ran over the Bok flyhalf en route to the tryline in the third Test in Port Elizabeth. Last week, the diminutive Wallabies centre Bernard Foley barged through Jantjies in a similar fashion.
So how can Jantjies hope to stop the 1.92m, 109kg Savea, the man who is called 'The Bus' for a good reason?
The Boks' defensive problems are not limited to the No 10 channel. Juan de Jongh has never been one to boss the gainline, while Jesse Kriel has made some poor decisions in that crucial No 13 position over the past two years.
To make matters worse, these players are likely to spend the bulk of the contest in Christchurch on the back foot. While the introduction of tighthead Vincent Koch and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit won't weaken the Bok set piece, the decision to persist with Oupa Mohoje at blindside and a back row in general that lacks balance will compromise the visitors' ambitions of dominating the gainline battle.
For the Boks to have any chance in this fixture, they have to take the fight to the All Blacks in this area. It would be a surprise if they prevailed, however, as Allister Coetzee hasn't exactly picked a side geared for a physical battle.
Goal-kicking will again be in the spotlight. Jantjies has struggled in this department in 2016. It's imperative he produces a flawless goal-kicking performance this weekend.
Four years ago in Dunedin, the Boks dominated the physical exchanges and had the chance to win the game through a series of penalty kicks. On that occasion, Morné Steyn, Johan Goosen and Frans Steyn missed six goal kicks between them, and the Boks lost 21-11.
That said, the coming clash in Christchurch is unlikely to be as close. The All Blacks have never been better. The Boks, by contrast, haven't been this bad for some time.
The All Blacks could clinch the Rugby Championship title on Saturday. If the All Blacks claim five log points in Christchurch and Argentina fail to obtain a bonus-point win in Perth, the trophy will head back to New Zealand.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 53, Springboks 35, Draw 3
In Christchurch: All Blacks 6, Springboks 2
STATS AND FACTS
– New Zealand have won seven of their last eight games against South Africa including the last two in a row.
– None of the last four games between these nations have been decided by more than the value of a converted try.
– New Zealand have won their last 11 games at AMI Stadium, the last six of which have been decided by margins of at least 10 points.
– In fact, the last time the All Blacks lost at AMI Stadium was in 1998.
– South Africa's last victory at the venue came in 1965.
– South Africa have won 38% of their games against New Zealand, the best winning record of any nation against the All Blacks.
– The All Blacks have averaged 41.5 points scored per game in 2016 so far, their highest since averaging 49.5 per game across 12 fixtures in 2007.
– South Africa have scored 31 points in the final quarter of games in the 2016 Rugby Championship, the most of any team. However, the All Blacks have only conceded five points in the same period.
– The All Blacks have scored 18 tries in the competition so far this year, three more than Argentina, Australia and South Africa combined.
– The Springboks have put boot to ball in general play more often than any other team this tournament, averaging 26.7 kicks in general play, six more per game than the All Blacks.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|All Blacks||Beauden Barrett (43)||Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea (3)||Julian Savea (207)||Sam Whitelock (38)|
|Springboks||Elton Jantjies (25)||Johan Goosen, Warren Whiteley (2)||Johan Goosen (225)||Oupa Mohoje (35)|
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Springboks – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Jaco Kriel, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images