The opportunity to play against the All Blacks is a career highlight for any Springbok, writes former captain JEAN DE VILLIERS.
Some South Africans might suggest that we love to hate the New Zealanders … but make no mistake, we really do respect them.
Two of the most successful teams in international rugby are scheduled to collide on 25 September. The game in Townsville, Queensland, will mark the centenary of the New Zealand-South Africa rivalry.
This match was scheduled to be played in Dunedin before the Covid-19 situation in New Zealand resulted in a change of venue. And yet, perhaps it’s a good thing that two of the game’s greatest teams will meet for the 100th time on neutral ground.
I’ve been entrenched in this rivalry since I was five years old. My father Andre played for Western Province in the 1970s and went on to become an administrator. Over a period of 15 years, our house was home to all sorts of visitors from New Zealand when teams toured South Africa. Fans, administrators and even a few club players ended up staying at our house during that time.
Some of the visitors stayed for a couple of weeks, while others – like Simon Anderson – ended up staying for a couple of years. Stu Loe, the cousin of All Blacks prop Richard Loe, stayed with us for a spell. Stu eventually went on to play for the Crusaders side in the inaugural Super 12 tournament.
Growing up in a rugby family in Paarl, I had a clear idea about who I wanted to be when I grew up. Every kid in South Africa wants to represent the Springboks. For me, that was the first goal. I was also desperate to play against the All Blacks, and to face them at Newlands.
Exposure to all those Kiwis from a young age gave me an idea about the New Zealand culture and the style of rugby in that part of the world. I couldn’t get enough of their stories. I got them to play rugby with me on our front lawn.
It was a different kind of rugby upbringing, yet one that prepared me to embrace the unique rivalry between the Boks and the All Blacks. Some South Africans might suggest that we love to hate the New Zealanders – given their strength on the rugby pitch.
But, make no mistake, we really do respect them. Growing up alongside so many New Zealanders, I gained a good appreciation for how much the Kiwis respect South African rugby, too.
I relished every opportunity I had to play against the All Blacks. In the first half of my career, I actually won more than I lost against them. By the time I finished up in 2015, however, I had won nine out of 23 Tests against the All Blacks.
South Africa went through a difficult period and struggled against New Zealand in particular. Over the past four years, they have clawed things back to restore some respect to the rivalry. It’s a good thing for the Boks, and for rugby as a whole.
I’m looking forward to the coming clashes. Due to the global pandemic, the Boks and the All Blacks haven’t met since the 2019 World Cup. So much will be at stake when they play in Townsville and on the Gold Coast in the Rugby Championship.
The All Blacks may feel they have a point to prove when they meet the world champions. On the other hand, the Boks will remember what it felt like to lose to the All Blacks during the pool stage of that global tournament in Japan. They won’t be holding back.
What I like about this Bok team is that they don’t rest on their laurels. They’ve won the Rugby Championship and the World Cup. More recently, they beat the British & Irish Lions in a fiercely contested series. Now they are looking to the next challenge, which is the Rugby Championship and a couple of big matches against the All Blacks.
I remember the great year we had in 2009 when we beat the Lions and then rode that momentum into the subsequent Tri-Nations. The situation is different now, given the challenges of Covid. The Boks won’t have ample time to prepare in a rejigged competition in Australia.
That said, they should have some momentum after beating the Lions and will know that their gameplan – when executed correctly – is very hard to match.