Boks still top for Blacks

Sam Cane says the Springboks remain the scalp the All Blacks most covet and the challenge of winning on their turf will ensure there’s no complacency in their ranks.

The Blacks won the Rugby Championship title with victory over Argentina on Saturday, rendering their forthcoming meeting with the Springboks in Soweto inconsequential in terms of log standings.

However, the Springboks will be desperate to beat the team they consider the benchmark in the game, and do so in front of a crowd that is expected to top 65 000.

New Zealand fielded a significantly weakened team in Port Elizabeth when they were in a similar position in the 2011 Tri-Nations, but have indicated they will play their best combinations this time around. The tourists have dominated this fixture in recent years, winning regularly home and away. There is a sense among some that this has eroded its appeal for the Blacks, but Cane refuted that suggestion.

‘Complacency won’t be an issue at all. We’ve won the championship but have parked that now. This has always been a big Test match and hearing from the older guys in the team it is more rewarding to win over here than it is back home. This is absolutely still our biggest challenge. To win here would be special because it is one of the hardest places in the world to achieve that,’ he said.

The Springboks spurned an excellent opportunity to beat the Blacks in Dunedin three weeks ago, having bossed the forward exchanges and dominated territory and possession. Steve Hansen’s men struggled to get any momentum into their attacking game thanks to an accurate and physical defensive effort. Cane said this would be a decisive facet of play once more.

‘Their clean-out was exceptional, they put on a lot of heat there,’ he said. ‘We probably didn’t adjust well enough. We improved in Argentina and must grow that area of our game.

‘If we dominate collisions and get the gainline it will allow our loose forwards to get them off the ball. It will be pretty important to who wins.’

He added that the Springboks’ approach has been predictable but Johan Goosen’s inclusion makes them less so. ‘Typically over the last few years the Boks have tried to dominate in the forwards then gone to the air (up and unders). But with [Goosen] there, he lends them some attacking game. It’ll be interesting to see what they bring.’

The Springboks lost to the Blacks in their first outing at Soccer City in 2010. On that occasion the crowd support was deafening at times and Cane was wary of the Springboks getting off to a flyer and fuelling their fire of those in the stands.

‘They’ll have about 90 000 behind them so it’s important to start well and take the crowd out of the equation, like we did on Saturday. If they got on a roll they can almost grow another arm and a leg.’

By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg