Richie McCaw says the All Blacks won’t be taking Saturday’s fixture lightly as they view it as a stepping stone to greater achievements.
It may be true that you only defend your World Cup title at the following tournament, but the All Blacks have certainly enhanced their No 1 status with an outstanding and to-date undefeated 2012 campaign.
A convincing win in Argentina last week saw them securing the Rugby Championship title, rendering the final clash with South Africa meaningless as far as that Sanzar competition is concerned.
In the context of the All Blacks’ long-term ambitions, however, this Saturday’s match in Soweto is massively important.
All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read said on Thursday that a loss to the Boks at this stage would be a substantial setback. It was an extreme statement to make, but on Friday Read’s captain confirmed that the entire team feels the same way.
The All Blacks are aiming for a clean sweep in the Rugby Championship. A win against the Boks will also place them in a great position to break that world record for the most consecutive Test wins.
A win against the Boks would taken their tally to 16 victories in a row, and you’d have to believe they would then be favourites to surpass Lithuania’s 18. The All Blacks rarely lose in Europe, and with that extra motivation they will be even tougher to topple.
But McCaw and his men realise that to get themselves into a position to break the record, they will first need to overcome a Bok side that is starting to find form.
McCaw said on Friday that the decision to cancel the captain’s run at Soccer City was taken to preserve the energy of the players. The team management is mindful of the looming physical fight, and want their charges operating at full intensity.
‘We want a full tank for tomorrow,’ said McCaw. ‘The guys have been training hard this week, at the intensity of what we expect from the Boks. We have had a good first few days this week and now we have decided to take it a bit easier.
‘We have to perform well tomorrow or else it [their progress in 2012] will be undone. That’s what we need to do first, ensure we produce a good performance. We did it last week in Argentina, but not being able to back it up [in Soweto] would be hugely disappointing.’
Many have asked how the All Blacks could be motivated for a Test that is of no consequence to the outcome of the Rugby Championship. When the question was put to McCaw, a decorated veteran who has tasted some sweet victories and gutting defeats in many match-ups involving the Boks, he explained that there was always something at stake when these two teams clashed.
‘If you can’t get excited for the Boks, then you should be doing something else with your life really,’ he said.
‘As good as last week was [the All Blacks beat Argentina 54-15] we were always mindful of the added challenge of coming here for the final game. We’ve been mentally and physically preparing ourselves for this, and are really looking forward to the contest.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg