All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says the Springboks are a force to be reckoned with as a proud and desperate team.
OPINION: Memo to rugby fans around New Zealand: place two fingers between the bone and tendon over your radial artery on your wrist. Now check your pulse rate.
Not much happening there, we bet.
So what? Well, a test match between the All Blacks and Springboks will be played at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday night and, to be frank, you could get more excitement by successfully putting fresh spark plugs in the old Masport lawn mower.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said complacency for his side, which has recorded six consecutive wins this season, won’t be an issue.
This has to have been one of the most underwhelming buildups to a test match between the two of rugby’s greatest rivals since the game turned professional in late 1995.
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Perhaps that is being too generous. If you keep turning the pages of history maybe you might have to go back as far as 1949 when the All Blacks got hammered 4-0 in the series in South Africa, to discover a time when one country was so dominant.
Yet it was only a year ago when the All Blacks and Springboks, all glassy-eyed and fidgety with tension, stood on the Twickenham turf and glared at each other ahead of the World Cup semifinal in London.
The All Blacks, having opted to repeatedly turn their opponents around by nudging kicks into the corners as rain swept through the Twickenham stadium, scraped home 20-18 that day. The following weekend they whacked the Wallabies 34-17 in the final.
Clearly, something has changed.
Springbok head coach Allister Coetzee spoke to the media on Thursday, ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship test with the All Blacks in Christchurch.
Not with the All Blacks it hasn’t. The world champions remain the great entertainers of world rugby.
Which leaves us to deal with the Springboks, a side that has become a punch bag for critics around the globe. Underwhelming results in the Rugby Championship (make that a scratchy win in a home game against Argentina, a loss to them on foreign soil followed by a defeat to the Aussies in Brisbane), combined with their sloppy performances have placed immense pressure on the South Africans.
None of this is good news for their new coach Allister Coetzee. He is really copping it.
Christchurch is readying itself for tomorrow night’s first class rugby match between the All Blacks and Springboks; it’s the first time since 2007 the teams have faced each other in the city – and South African fans are excited but realistic about the prospects.
This week All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was asked whether his team’s ruthless dominance could lead to complacency. Nope, said Hansen. It better not. He hates losing.
Apart from questioning whether Coetzee was struggling to combine the Lions’ running game, which proved so successful in Super Rugby, with the traditional South African strategy of relying on power and stability among the forwards, Hansen refused to bait his counterpart.
It has been so much different to when Wallabies coach Michael Cheika and Hansen traded words before and after the two tests played in Sydney and Wellington last month.
When he was nine, Julian Savea had no idea he’d become an All Black. But he knew his five-year-old brother was destined for the big stage. The most explosive siblings in rugby unite when flanker Ardie Savea makes his first Test start against South Africa in Christchurch on Saturday.
The only real shot fired at the All Blacks was from Eddie Jones, who is stationed almost 19,000km away from the city of Christchurch.
England coach Jones gleefully pointed out that the All Blacks have flaws, something he hoped his side could exploit when they met them in 2018. Hansen shrugged his shoulders, said Jones likes to make sure everyone knows he he still has an opinion, and agreed his side has areas of their game that they can improve.
So what’s the vibe been like in Christchurch this week?
Well, if you live here and don’t bother turning to the sports pages or listening to news bulletins, you wouldn’t have much idea that the giants of rugby will fly at each other come 7.35pm on Saturday.
The Springboks have been holed-up in the Clearwater Resort on the western outskirts of Christchurch, while the All Blacks have taken residence in a hotel on the fringes of Hagley Park near the central city. It has hardly been Beatlemania in the Garden City.
A note of caution. Don’t expect the All Blacks to record a runaway win at AMI Stadium. The Springboks will likely tighten their game, keep the ball closer to their big forwards and try to force errors from the Kiwis.
In other words they may revert to what they know best. The problem is, that is unlikely to be enough. Not against this All Blacks side, anyway.
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