All Blacks, Springboks match previews World Cup pool clash
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The All Blacks and Springboks coaches agree the winner of Saturday's Rugby Championship test in Wellington will take a slight edge into the World Cup where the teams will meet again in the first round of pool play.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen and South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus also agree the winner of the match will likely win this year's Championship and that the tournament is only a stepping stone towards the World Cup and a re-match in Yokohama on Sept. 21.
"In the bigger scheme of things one will always play down this test match and say the World Cup is the most important," Erasmus said. "But in the same breath it's a New Zealand-South Africa test match so for both teams it's very important.
"Because we're playing each other in the pool stage at the World Cup it spices it up. It's going to be close and the team that wins will have a little more belief and momentum going into that pool match."
Hansen is thinking along similar lines.
"In the big scheme of this year does the result matter?" Hansen said. "I guess it will give whoever wins it a little confidence going in to the World Cup. But I don't think it's going to affect the World Cup, no."
Hansen said the All Blacks will not be on a quest for revenge after losing the same match in Wellington last year by two points to an under-rated Springboks team.
The Springboks drew confidence from that win over the world champions and have gone on since to stack up impressive results. They seem to be heading towards the World Cup on a well-defined road with a clearly understood game plan and consistent selections.
New Zealand, instead, has plunged off down various cul-de-sacs in both tactics and selection, choosing ever-larger squads comprising players who often make only one appearance before vanishing from the radar.
Erasmus has been clear-sighted in his selections. He fielded an almost second-string lineup which was still able to beat Australia 35-17 last weekend while sending several of his front-line players ahead to Wellington to acclimatize ahead of Saturday's match.
New Zealand scraped to a 20-16 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires with a scratch lineup which featured combinations unlikely to be used in the World Cup's knockout rounds.
The Springboks' lineup for Saturday's match is a stable and tested one; the All Blacks team sees the return of many front-line players including its first choice tight-five. But it still has an experimental cast.
Hansen has finally yielded to pressure to play Richie Mo'unga at flyhalf and to move Beauden Barrett from flyhalf to fullback. Barrett is a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year but his kicking and passing under pressure has been patchy lately and fullback may give him a better chance to unleash his attacking ability.
The New Zealand back row is experimental with captain Kieran Read filling his usual role at No. 8 but Matt Todd starting in place of Sam Cane on the open side and Shannon Frizell given a chance to fill the troublesome blindside role in the absence of Liam Squire.
Sonny Bill Williams will return from a long injury break to partner Jack Goodhue in midfield in a combination unlikely to see service in the World Cup. Williams has played only rarely since the 2015 World Cup because of injuries and his form and fitness are both in question.
With only four tests to play before the World Cup kicks off, both teams need a solid performance Saturday to show their preparation is on track.