There’s been a tense and eerily quiet buildup to the momentous 100th Test between the Springboks and All Blacks and now it’s time for readers to break the silence and make it known where they stand in this heavyweight clash.
The All Blacks reclaimed first place in the World Rugby rankings last week after completing a double hammer blow to Argentina’s plans for 2021, while the Boks took their eye off the ball and ran themselves into trouble in a second successive loss against the Wallabies.
In the space of a fortnight, the world champions have surrendered their No 1 status to New Zealand along with the growing sentiment that South Africa was on the cusp of again producing a team that backs up World Cup success with a southern-hemisphere title.
The last time these two teams went at it was in the Pool B opener at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which the All Blacks won 23-13. But where the Boks recovered to power into the final and beat England 32-12, the Roses watered New Zealand 19-7 in the semi-finals.
South Africa then skipped the 2020 edition of the southern-hemisphere tournament and made an impressive return this year to clinch a tough series against the British & Irish Lions before cracking their knuckles in two easy bouts against Argentina. Morale and expectations were high – that is before the world champions were sucker-punched by the Wallabies.
The All Blacks confirmed they haven’t lost their killer instinct, routing Australia to retain the Bledisloe Cup, but they will be without the key trio of Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga and Sam Whitelock when they bump into the Boks on Saturday.
South Africa’s chances have been written off in the global rugby media and they’ve forsaken the Bomb Squad by reverting to a five-three split on the bench this week. Sub-100kg flank Kwagga Smith takes over the No 7 jersey while lock Lood de Jager is fit again.
De Jager will look to exploit the absence of Whitelock from the All Blacks lineout while the Boks will rely on Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard to do the same against Smith and Mo’unga’s replacements.
But South Africa has only won 36% of 99 Tests against New Zealand, and that success rate drops to 22% outside the Republic, and 25% of four Tests at a neutral venue.