Graham Henry reminded his All Blacks that they’ve lost two of their last four tests against the Springboks. He also emphasised that the last team to beat the All Blacks was South Africa — a year ago.
Henry seemed to be dulling expectation of a similar 49-0 scoreline when the All Blacks host the Boks in Wellington.
The New Zealand media and public have written off South Africa, describing Jake White’s side as ‘braindead’ and already turning their attention to the All Blacks next test against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
Henry’s All Blacks are yet to win in South Africa, hammered 40-26 in 2004 and battered 22-16 in Cape Town. In this time they’ve beaten the Boks by three and four points respectively in New Zealand, winning both tests in the last minutes.
Henry knows how difficult it can get against the Boks and stressed that the changes made to his line-up are not insulting South Africa but more a case of picking a ‘horses for courses’ team to combat the physical presence of South Africa.
Against Australia the All Blacks went for more mobility. Against the Boks bulk was a factor.
He did not believe it to be a weaker All Blacks team, but a different one.
Henry acknowledged the Boks were poorer in the absence of Schalk Burger and Bakkies Botha, but he still felt they’d present a formidable challenge on Saturday.
“The majority of these guys have played South Africa a number of times and it’s always been a very difficult contest. I think it was a bit of an aberration last week. I’m hoping our guys are fully aware of that,” Henry told Jim Kayes of the Dominion Post.
The New Zealand media, though, were hammering any Bok prospects. Only one of the All Blacks who will start on Saturday, they wrote, had lost to South Africa more than twice in his career.
Hooker Anton Oliver has played the Springboks nine times for five wins and four losses. Veteran lock Chris Jack has lost only two of his 11 tests against South Africa, as has centre Mils Muliaina (five wins from seven tests).
Richie McCaw, recalled flanker Reuben Thorne and wing Doug Howlett have lost once.
Henry said he had not known a weak South African side.
And just to add a little reminder, go back to 2003 when the Boks got smashed 29-9 in Brisbane after conceding 50 points to the All Blacks in Pretoria. John Mitchell also rested four of his leading players in the pack and the All Blacks struggled to a 19-11 win. Both teams scored one try and had Louis Koen not missed with several kicks it may well have been a famous Bok win.
As it is the last time the Boks won in Wellington, in 1998, the countries were celebrating their 50th test against each other. And on Saturday there’s another 50 celebration in the air.
Just perhaps, there’s a little omen for the Boks to hang on to. Perhaps.