The All Blacks and Springboks resume their fierce rivalry in the Rugby Championship in Wellington on Saturday. JOHN GOLIATH looks at some of the battles that could be key to winning the war.
Duane Vermeulen vs Kieran Read
Vermeulen wasn’t part of the team that won in Wellington in 2018 and will be keen to break his own personal duck in a Springbok jersey in New Zealand. The Vodacom Bulls No 8 is a wonderfully rounded player, who brings to the table a power game and an incredible ability for such a big guy to compete for the ball on the ground. He also has some lovely subtle touches in his arsenal.
While Read hasn’t quite been at his best over the last couple of years, he remains a colossus of All Black rugby. At his best, Read is the world’s premier No 8, with skills that have been rarely matched by his counterparts. Read is also one of the most experienced campaigners around. He will know the All Blacks face their greatest Test ahead of the World Cup on Saturday.
Malcolm Marx vs Codie Taylor
Marx is the world’s best hooker and probably the Springboks’ most important player. The Lions man is key for momentum, as he is a powerful ball-carrier, who always seems to make metres. But he is also a ball-winner on the ground, as his strength and technique make him a nightmare to clean out at the breakdown. His lineout throwing has also really come along nicely over the last few years.
Taylor has really stepped up his game since replacing Dane Coles in this All Blacks team. He has grown as a player and a leader over the last few years with the Crusaders, and has taken that form and confidence into the international game. Taylor is an intelligent player and a hooker who can also mix it up with ball in hand. His work rate around the park is fantastic as well.
Handré Pollard vs Richie Mo’unga
There’s something about matches against the All Blacks that brings out the best in Pollard. He loves the physicality and intensity of them, and has produced some of his finest performances against the old foes. Pollard must also be looking forward to having a crack at Mo’unga’s channel on Saturday to test the All Blacks flyhalf’s defence, which has let him down once in a while.
But Pollard also needs to watch out for Mo’unga’s running game, which is one of the reasons why he can’t just sit on the bench. The Crusaders No 10 is a wonderful player, with an array of skills. He is a great distributor of the ball, but is also quick and can glide through the smallest of gaps. He has a good kicking game to boot, and will be looking to find his wings with accurate crosskicks.
Damian de Allende vs Sonny Bill Williams
De Allende played one of his best matches in the Springbok jersey against the All Blacks in Wellington last year before he left the field with an injury. The Stormers man had a good Vodacom Super Rugby campaign and looks really fresh and strong. He will need to defend well against Williams in that inside-centre channel, but also needs to give the Boks that momentum they need with ball in hand to put the All Blacks under pressure.
Williams hasn’t been able to get continuity and momentum going over the last couple of years following a spate of injuries. But we all know what he can bring to the table when he does get going. At his best, SBW is a superb runner, who can offload the ball in almost any situation. People also tend to forget what an athlete he is, because he can also run through people with his speed and strength.
Photo: Gabriele Maltinti/Gallo Images