All Blacks closing on 3rd Rugby Championships
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand will move closer to securing its third-straight Rugby Championships by beating South Africa in the fourth round on Saturday, and will also enhance its favoritism for next year’s World Cup.
The All Blacks have two wins and a draw after three rounds while Australia has a win, a draw and a loss, South Africa two wins and a loss and Argentina has yet to win a match.
If New Zealand wins Saturday it will be clear atop the table and in a strong position to clinch the title with away matches remaining against Argentina and South Africa.
New Zealand has already got the better of rival World Cup aspirants England and Australia, plus the improving Argentines, in recent months and will be keen to add the Springboks to the list of the vanquished.
England arrived in New Zealand in June eager to demonstrate its development under coach Stuart Lancaster, announcing the All Blacks had lost their “aura of invincibility” but the All Blacks swept the series 3-0.
Australia held New Zealand to a 12-12 draw in the first match of the Rugby Championships but also fell victim to hubris, believing it was capable of matching its trans-Tasman rival, only to be trounced 51-20 in the return game.
Argentina stretched the All Blacks in Napier last weekend but New Zealand still won 28-9.
Now South Africa, after a contentious 24-23 loss to Australia in Perth, will try to inflict only a second defeat upon New Zealand since the 2011 World Cup.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has named 20-year-old Handre Pollard to start only his fourth test at flyhalf in a move which signals attacking intent.
Meyer’s opposite, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, said New Zealand would not be caught out if South Africa adopted a running game, recalling the 38-27 scoreline when the teams last met in Johannesburg last season.
“They were pretty good doing that last year...they just about beat us last year doing that,” Hansen said.
“Heyneke’s also looking towards the World Cup and Pollard’s a pretty handy footballer. He had a pretty good under-20 tournament, Heyneke’s obviously got a lot of faith in him and you can see why when the kid plays.”
Captain Jean de Villiers on Saturday will become the fifth South African to play 100 tests, but said his preparation for the New Zealand game will be business as usual.
“There will be a lot of emotion that comes with it — my wife’s coming to the game and my Dad’s coming to the game which will be special — but purely from a preparation point of view nothing changes,” de Villiers said.
“Being a bit of a purist when it comes to rugby, the ultimate challenge was always to play against the All Blacks. I was lucky enough to play my 50th against them in Durban and now to play my 100th against them is special.”
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Steven Luatua, Jeremy Thrush, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Joe Moody, Ben Franks, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Cory Jane.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Handre Pollard, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw, Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tenda Mtawarira.
Reserves: Bismarck du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Lood de Jager, Warren Whiteley, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Damian de Allende.