This is a 50-50 game that can go either way. Only one score will separate the teams but that score will favour the Springboks.
The All Blacks are a wonderful side. They’re a great team, at best. When struggling they’re a good team.
There is nothing bullish about my view that the Springboks will win.
I get bullish when the Boks play at Ellis Park. When they are on the road I tend to dismiss their prospects as historically they’ve had a soft touch and left the granite at Oliver Tambo airport.
Occasionally a Bok squad gets it right when leaving South Africa – and when they do they tend to be spectacular.
The Australian win has to be put into context. The Boks got 38 points against them and scored four tries. The All Blacks, in Australia, got 47 points against them and scored five tries. So the Boks did nothing to Australia that the All Blacks didn’t do.
It’s just that the All Blacks regularly thrash Australia and in recent times the Boks have struggled against the Aussies.
Confidence is high among the Boks and the Boks supporters. New Zealand, having lost their inspirational captain Richie McCaw, don’t have a similar confidence. Their performance against Argentina was more a grind than a gallop and Dan Carter, for all his brilliance, currently isn’t the influence he has been for the last decade.
Carter this year has struggled with injury and it has affected his game.
Historically Carter has turned it on against the Springboks, especially when playing in South Africa.
But his goalkicking hasn’t always been as sharp and I recall two games he played when he kicked two from seven and one from six respectively. The Boks lost both those games by the way, so it is not like Carter has to necessarily kick everything for the Kiwis to win.
By contrast when South Africa has beaten New Zealand the kicks have gone over. When they’ve been in positions to win – and then lost – it has been down to goalkicking.
In 2003 Louis Koen missed five kicks at goal in Dunedin and the Boks lost 19-11. In 2012 Morne Steyn, Frans Steyn and Johan Goosen missed seven kicks at goal in Dunedin and the Boks lost 21-11.
On both Dunedin occasions the All Blacks didn’t show the Boks the necessary respect. They underestimated the Boks, who had gone into the game as a team struggling and devoid of confidence.
But the Boks lifted for those games and physically tore into the All Blacks.
This time the All Blacks will be prepared, but then they were also prepared for the Springboks in Port Elizabeth in 2011 and just couldn’t match the physicality of the Boks. Steyn kicked five penalties and a drop goal and South Africa won 18-5.
In 2009, when the Boks beat the All Blacks in three successive Tests, it was again the physicality of the Boks that proved too much for the All Blacks. The South Africans were just too strong in the contact and dominated the set piece and collisions.
I am confident but certainly not bullish. I am not dismissing the All Blacks because that would be the rant of a fool. The All Blacks are unbeaten in 31 Tests at Eden Park and have won their last 30. The Boks in 1994 drew 18-all and earlier in that year the French beat the All Blacks at Eden Park, thanks to THAT try from the end of the world. I was fortunate to be in the Press Box for that Test and for the one against the Boks a few months later.
Saturday will have the intensity of a World Cup final. The number one ranking is up for grabs and whoever wins will be statistically ranked one in the world. If the Boks win they will win the Rugby Championship and they could then set themselves up to take their winnings streak past the world record 17, given their schedule post the Rugby Championship.
There is so much for South Africa to gain from this one.
I think South Africa have the front row advantage. The Boks, at hooker, have Bismarck du Plessis. The All Blacks have Dan Coles. The Boks at flank have Francois Louw. The All Blacks have Sam Cane. That, in my view, is two different category of class in the players – and the advantage is with South Africa.
I believe the Boks will have the edge in the scrums. The lineouts will be evenly contested and both teams can be vulnerable to a good contest. Dan Carter, at his best, gives the All Blacks an advantage with his restarts and out of hand kicking game. But he isn’t at his best, and hasn’t been all year.
The All Blacks have two potent wings, but then so do the Boks. Israel Dagg on attack offers more than Zane Kirchner, but the latter gives the Boks more on defence and makes less mistakes.
Ma’a Nonu and Jean de Villiers cancel each out each other and Conrad Smith’s experience is a plus over JJ Englebrecht.
The locks match each other and the South African loose-forwards as a combination will be the difference, if the Bok tight five stands firm and applies the slow poison.
Then Ruan Pienaar and Morne Steyn will be able to dictate field position through kicks and the rolling maul will come into play. If the Boks don’t front as I think they will, then Aaron Smith and Dan Carter are good enough, individually and as a combination, to preserve the All Blacks incredible record at Eden Park.
This is how a match up should be when the best two teams play each other. It should be that the game can be won by either side and that one moment of magic or one howler determines the outcome.
It is going to be that close.
McCaw’s absence is massive. Carter’s lack of confidence is obvious. Any player battling with injury is not the same.
The Boks, for the first time in a while, have genuine belief they can win. The All Blacks, for the first time, have concerns they could lose.
Every team is beatable and I hate the use of the cliche (the All Blacks are beatable). Of course they are, just ask England at Twickenham in December. The All Blacks are a great side who have always been vulnerable in a match or two every year.
They tend to lose on average once a year and they get run close on more than one occasion a year.
If they get it right at home they can put 50 past a team. Ask Ireland. And if they don’t that same team can beat them. Ask Ireland, who at 19-all, had a chance to beat the All Blacks with a penalty kick. They missed, New Zealand won with a drop goal and a week later won 60-0.
Attitude in the collisions will determine the flow of the game. I am picking the Boks in this capacity. I am also picking the Boks to play the smarter rugby and produce the better approach to field position.
Whereas I thought Heyneke Meyer got his loose-forward selections wrong in Brisbane, I believe he is spot on for Auckland. This time I think All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has got it wrong. Kieran Read is world class, but Liam Messam and Sam Cane wouldn’t make a Bok match 23, let alone the starting XV.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has described this as being among the three biggest of his career, possibly even the biggest. De Villiers has won eight times in 19 matches against the All Blacks, so he knows the feeling of beating New Zealand.
He has also won in New Zealand against the All Blacks.
In fact, half the Bok team (De Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Bryan Habana, Tendai Mtawarira, Morné Steyn, Gurthrö Steenkamp, and Ruan Pienaar) has won against the All Blacks in New Zealand.It’s going to be a ripper, but on balance of strengths versus weaknesses and player, position for position, and combination versus combination, I currently think the Springboks are a better team than the All Blacks.
And at Eden Park they’ll translate this into a one score win.
Springboks’ results against All Blacks at Eden Park
1921: Won 9-5
1937: Won 17-6
1956: Lost 5-11
1965: Lost 3-20
1981: Lost 22-25
1994: Drew 18-18
1997: Lost 35-55
2001: Lost 15-26
2010: Lost 12-32