BRISBANE, Australia, Sep 24 – Under-fire South Africa head into their 100th Test against arch-rivals New Zealand this weekend desperate to recapture the high-pressure style that delivered a World Cup just two years ago.
Coach Jacques Nienaber said the South Africans needed to “revisit our soul” after two disappointing losses to Australia, while scrum-half Faf de Klerk talked of finding the team’s DNA.
The All Blacks, in contrast, are reinvigorated after shaking off a slump of their own last year to regain the world number one ranking this week on the back of a nine-match winning streak.
“We’re excited… this has got a bit of a legacy-moment feel about it — 100 Tests and 100 years, it certainly makes it special,” New Zealand coach Ian Foster said ahead of the Rugby Championship round-five tie in Townsville, Australia.
The match on Saturday is a contest for bragging rights between the reigning world champion Boks and the top-ranked All Blacks.
But the Rugby Championship is also up for grabs, with New Zealand needing a win to seal this year’s tournament and South Africa chasing a bonus-point victory to keep alive their slim title hopes.
The historic clash was originally set to be played in Dunedin — which hosted the teams’ first meeting in 1921 — before pandemic-enforced rescheduling saw it moved to Australia.
Over the course of a century the All Blacks have won 59 Tests and the Springboks 36, with four draws.
– ‘Brutally honest’ –
In the lead-up the Springboks have been more concerned about fixing current difficulties than reminiscing about past glories.
De Klerk said they tried to run the ball too much against the Wallabies and would adopt a more typical Springbok game plan against New Zealand.
“We played away from our DNA and that maybe put guys under pressure and that led to us forcing errors and overplaying a bit,” he said.
“We need to be better going into this Test. We really want to rectify those errors.”
Nienaber outlined the formula South Africa would adopt after a “brutally honest” review of what went wrong against Australia.
“Strong defence, accurate execution and capitalising on our point-scoring chances will be key,” he said.
“We also have to ensure we make minimal mistakes because the All Blacks have proved time and again how they punish teams from small errors.”
Nienaber has recalled the veteran trio of Lood de Jager, Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn — all part of the 2019 World Cup squad — banking on their big-match savvy to contain the All Blacks.
“Experience will be vital to ensure that we remain focused and calm throughout the match,” he said.
Nienaber said victory for the Springboks depended on “revisiting what our soul is, what we do as South Africans and what we enjoy doing, and probably going back to that”.
This will be the first meeting between the teams since a pool match at the World Cup in Japan in 2019, when the All Blacks won 23-13.
Foster has made eight changes to his starting line-up, recalling seasoned campaigners such as fly-half Beauden Barrett and influential lock Brodie Retallick.
Foster conceded the Springboks looked “flat” in recent weeks but said a quality opponent should never be underestimated, pointing to South Africa’s series victory over the British and Irish Lions.
“The style of the win was irrelevant, we’ve got to give them credit for that… they’re very experienced, we’re expecting them to have learned a lot in the last two weeks,” he said.
All Blacks Assistant coach John Plumtree spoke this week about South Africa regaining their “bully mentality” and All Blacks skipper Ardie Savea said he was expecting something similar.
“They’re very big, physical men and they just want to dominate,” he told reporters.
“So it’s an exciting challenge and hopefully one we’re ready for.”