Sat, Oct 05, 2013 - Page 18 News List

Springboks up against All Blacks in final match

AFP, JOHANNESBURG

Global rugby powers New Zealand and South Africa square off at Ellis Park today with the Rugby Championship title on the line.

The All Blacks take a five-point lead in the standings into a game that has captured the imagination of rugby followers far beyond the two countries.

A win, a draw or a bonus point for losing by fewer than eight points or for scoring four tries will ensure the southern hemisphere trophy remains in Wellington.

However, the Springboks can wrest the crown from their greatest rivals if they win by at least eight points, score four tries and deprive the visitors of any bonus points.

Add recalled warriors Bismarck du Plessis and Richie McCaw, plus the setting of Ellis Park, and the stage is set for a thriller on the fringe of Johannesburg city center.

Form favors New Zealand, with seven wins from the past eight meetings in a 92-year rivalry that began with a 13-5 Dunedin victory for the men in black.

The most recent success came in Auckland last month, with the 29-15 win marred by the controversial red-carding of hooker Du Plessis.

Ultra combative and famed for big “hits,” Du Plessis struck All Blacks playmaker Dan Carter hard, but legally, only for French referee Romain Poite to flash a yellow card.

Another yellow card, this time for leading with his elbow into the throat of flank Liam Messam just after halftime, meant an automatic red for the Springbok.

A bubbling contest with the All Blacks deservedly seven points ahead lost its edge as the home side used numerical superiority to deadly effect.

International Rugby Board officials admitted the first yellow was wrong, but the damage was done and Springbok supporters craved a rematch.

“The All Blacks are the greatest team in the world and we want to test ourselves against the best,” skipper and center Jean de Villiers said.

Coach Heyneke Meyer said there are risks in pursuing a four-try bonus point against lethal counterattackers like the All Blacks.

“It would be great just to beat them — but you either go for the four tries or you don’t. It is a huge challenge and risks will have to be taken,” Meyer said.

While New Zealand are seen as a team who love to run the ball, their kicking game also concerns the Springboks’ handler.

“The All Blacks’ kicking game is probably the best in the world — it is one area where we have fallen behind,” Meyer said. “They kick deep or high and regain possession, they put their opponents under pressure and they score from these situations.”

Du Plessis for Adriaan Strauss and Juandre Kruger for suspended lock Flip van der Merwe are the two changes from the side that won 28-8 against Australia in Cape Town.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen also made two changes to the team that weathered a first-half storm to triumph 33-15 in Argentina last weekend.

Inspirational skipper and flanker McCaw has recovered from a knee-ligament injury and returns, with Sam Cane dropping to the bench.

The other alteration to the starting lineup is enforced, with a groin injury sidelining prop Owen Franks. Charlie Faumuina is to don the No. 3 shirt.

Hansen is not one for superlatives, but he cannot help using them when discussing McCaw, the greatest ball-winner in the often murky world of the breakdown.

McCaw has never played at Ellis Park and is eager to put one over the Springboks who have won eight of 11 Tests there between the bitter rivals.

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