All four sides compete again in the The Rugby Championship Round Four this weekend. Two matches will take centrestage, with the main focus being on Christchurch, New Zealand when the All Blacks meet the Springboks.

NEW ZEALAND v SOUTH AFRICA

The Rugby Championship sees the ‘old foes’ face each other yet again. The first encounter of the Investec Rugby Championship season might have the All Blacks in the ascendency–a common theme in World Rugby–but funny things can happen when two of the toughest sides face-off.

Since 1921, the sides have played each other 91 times, with 53 wins to the All Blacks, 35 to South Africa and three draws. The most recent match was the 20-18 victory for New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup semifinal of 2015.

With a long historical relationship, the sides appear to be at either ends of the confidence scale. The selections are critical, with the All Blacks enjoying a strong, well proven pack and an exciting backline peppered with world class talent.

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (capt), Ardie Savea, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.

Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Luke Romano, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Lima Sopoaga, Anton Lienert-Brown.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “We’re really looking forward to Saturday’s encounter, as South Africa is one of our traditional foes. We have built up a great relationship over the last few years and respect the South Africans immensely.”

“We know they’ll be hurting and desperate to get a result after their loss on the weekend. Therefore, our personal preparation this week will have to be at the highest level — bone deep with real clarity,” he told ESPN.

We’ve worked hard this week on improving in the areas we felt weren’t good enough last weekend. We’re confident that those areas have been addressed and our performance will be improved.”

Debut for Ardie Savea

In the most widely anticipated debut in years, the younger brother of Julian Savea starts a test for the first time. Playing alongside his brother, they become the 10th set of brothers to start in a test match for NZ.

His form has demanded selection, but due to injury for Sam Cane, the start is a bonus for rugby fans. Supported on the bench by local Matt Todd, expect Savea to play a ‘Cane type’ role–under instruction, as much as within himself.

No doubt, given any room, the explosive pace will reveal itself and his opposite Springbok openside flanker must be on his toes tomorrow.

Room to improve

Captain Kieran Read told media after the Captains Run that his side were still fresh (in terms of competing as a group) “We’re tight. We are a pretty fresh group, with only six games so far there is room to improve”.

When asked if the team were confident, he agreed. “We are, and when you face South Africa the intensity goes up. It has, and it’s always a massive game and we’re eager to improve ourselves.”

Springboks must bounce back

After the change in coaching leadership; Heyneke Meyer replaced after the 2015 World Cup, the fortunes of the side have not improved. The side must look to this team to get themselves back on track.

South Africa: Johan Goosen, Bryan Habana, Jesse Kriel, Juan de Jongh, Francois Hougaard, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Oupa Mohoje, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Adriaan Strauss (capt), Tendai Mtawarira.

Reserves: Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Lourens Adriaanse, Franco Mostert, Willem Alberts, Jaco Kriel, Morne Steyn, Damian de Allende.

Head Coach Allister Coetzee is under immense pressure. With a record on one-win, two-losses, it places them second on the Championship ladder, but well behind the All Blacks.

“We know that our discipline was not on par against the Wallabies in Brisbane, and we have to show a big improvement on several fronts,” he said.

“Our defenSe will have to be solid for the full duration of the match, because the All Blacks have the game breakers that will punish you for any defensive lapse.”

The external pressures must be blocked, for the South African side to direct their focus on New Zealand. The weaponry that Kieran Read has around him, are seemingly limitless. From Beauden Barrett to Sam Whitelock, from Israel Dagg to Ryan Crotty, the side is very much complete.

Still relatively in-experienced, their captain holds 80 caps yet there are players under 20 or even 10 caps–that is the target area. Coetzee will expect his senior players to give it 110%. While that is a goal, the fact they have not finished many matches with any authority, is a concern.

All Blacks most powerful after 60 minutes

For Adriaan Strauss, the complete game is what his men must provide. Beside their opening win on home soil, they have looked vulnerable at the end of the match. Last week they put up points early, yet when the question was asked late in the piece, they wilted.

The home side perform over the course of a match. They had to fight back in Hamilton last week, but after 50 minutes they stamp their authority on the match. That is the key period, as the sides begin to enter the final quarter, where they are most strong.

Ask Australia, and they might say it happens immediately, but the All Blacks mentality is to lead more than to follow. Africa has one opportunity to get on top–and to stay there for the whole match.

For mine, the winning of the match will be at the start. A powerful Springbok side, who take it to the All Blacks will have more to do at the end of the game. Do they have that endurance? The reserve impact must be in fact ‘that’. Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Willem Alberts, Jaco Kriel and Damian de Allende each will be tested at the conclusion of this match.

All Black victory can claim Rugby Championship

Sitting at the top-of-the-table, the New Zealand side could wrap up another Rugby Championship by Saturday night, so it will be up to South Africa to halt that run. 14 consecutive wins too, and their are many who believe the home side are nearing their best ever. Claiming the championship is only one goal for this group though. Improving will be just as enjoyed by Hansen and his side.

No predictions from Last Word On Sports. The odds are in the All Blacks favour yes. Tradition must also play it’s part, and as Kieran Read said to gathered media “whenever you face the Springboks, it is a huge ask”.

You can count on that.

“Main photo credit”

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