Wellington rematch for New Zealand v South Africa

New Zealand v South Africa
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Franco Mostert of South Africa takes the ball in the lineout during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the South Africa Springboks at Westpac Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

With the assumption that Round One selection and planning policy by the two leading Southern Hemisphere rugby teams disproven, it all leads to a much more tantalizing fixture that will be the ‘Wellington rematch’ when fans prepare for New Zealand v South Africa on Saturday.

A rematch due to the location and recent history. In 2018, the Springboks traveled to Wellington, and caused a massive boilover when they defeated the All Blacks for the first time in many years. The type of victory was more sensational than one based on form, but it did please head coach Rassie Erasmus – his side still feeling that sense of pride. This week, they look towards another contest against their greatest rival.

The 95th clash of New Zealand v South Africa is the first of two. This match is the second round of The Rugby Championship. A game that has taken on much importance, due in part to a reduced Championship format but, mostly as it is the appetizer for the highly anticipated opening Pool B game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. A crucial second clash, in a crucial season.

Not that either the hosts or visitors are getting ahead of themselves. Being only the second test of their respective seasons, both International sides have limited build-up so will need to use the Wellington fixture as further preparation towards their ultimate goals.

Wellington rematch for New Zealand v South Africa

The presumption by this journalist and others was focused on the decisions by both teams management. Presumed to be a weakening in the sides armour, that was proven wrong in formidable fashion by South Africa. They, in fact, were dominant over an Australian side who seemed to have no answers in Johannesburg.

On the other hand, the New Zealand close victory over Argentina was a closer match. The views that a depowered All Blacks team – Crusaders players removed – would struggle, almost rewarded the hosts with a famous win. The second 40 minutes were all Los Pumas attack, yet with a resilience that was the pleasing aspect for Steve Hansen.

New Zealand v South Africa encounters are levels above the demands of Australia and Argentina, with respect. The expectation of big hits, tough defence and hopefully, of sustained attack, will have the rugby world’s attention on Saturday. And for good reason.

While rankings put a great distance between the World Champion All Blacks and Springboks [ranked 5th], the reality has always been closer. The emotion plays a part, yet skill and determination shows from each nation. Add to that the memories of last season, and the ‘Wellington rematch’ will be a much closer challenge, in Round Two.

Team selection now near to Full Strength #NZLvRSA

With a small group already situated in New Zealand, Rassie Erasmus and the full complement of his touring party landed in Wellington this week. It swelled the numbers, adds strength and conviction to their hopes of continuing an uptake in results against the All Blacks.

The win over Australia, was only one step, with the All Blacks a big step-up. Head coach Rassie Erasmus concluded that, “We know we will have to be at our very best to be competitive against the All Blacks on Saturday and that is why we have sent a group of players in advance to Wellington, so they could acclimatize after the long trip over from South Africa.”

His thoughts are that the squad must build confidence, and the 12 changes include a new captain for New Zealand v South Africa. “Duane is an experienced captain and we have a strong group of leaders in the team, which includes Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Opposing him, Steve Hansen will feel the pressure of playing at home. The returning group are now reinforced by a huge number of Tests, in the returning skipper Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Joe Moody and Owen Franks (to name a few). That power-base is what Hansen believes in the ‘boost in ammunition’ required to counter South Africa.

The two teams will now know who they will face. No strategizing, experimentation or gamesmanship – the result is more than a token win. For both sides, it means plenty. For both nations, the same. The side who can leave Wellington with the Freedom Cup, will also leave with a knowledge that on September 21 in Japan, they may have an edge.

The ramifications of the outcome will affect the rugby world too. A loss to the World Champions will crush the hopes of the Springboks. Repairing the aura of the All Blacks yet, consider a loss.

That will boost South Africa’s odds at the World Cup. They would likely win The Rugby Championship too. And, it will give rise to the challenge from the likes of number two ranked Wales, Ireland, England and France.

New Zealand v South Africa – Saturday July 27, Westpac Stadium

Saturday night will be another huge fixture. Look forward to follow-up analysis from Last Word on Rugby, as we begin the road to Japan, 2019 Rugby World Cup.

 

“Main photo credit”

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