The Springboks host the All Blacks in Ellis Park for the final showdown of the Rugby Championship, and while the tournament’s victor has already been decided, there’s more than enough to play for come Saturday.
With the All Blacks having safely packed away the trophy following their win over Argentina last weekend, there’s less at stake, and less to lose, for the Springboks, who can focus on outplaying the World Champions, as opposed to being obsessed with winning the competition.
Added to the occasion is that this match will be Springbok captain Jean de Villiers’ 50th appearance in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, the most by any South African.
Vermeulen is recovering from a rib cartilage injury and if he doesn’t recover in time to face New Zealand, Schalk Burger will start in the No 8 jersey with Warren Whiteley coming onto the bench.
If Vermeulen is cleared to play, the inclusion of Du Plessis at hooker will be the only change to the team that beat Australia by 28-10 in Cape Town last weekend.
“It’s been good to build some form of continuity and we’ll give Duane as much time as possible before making a final call,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. “He’s been one of our best players in the last couple of weeks and is responding well to medical treatment, but if he can’t make it, we can fall back on the experience of Schalk to start at No 8 with Warren coming onto the bench.
“Schalk’s impact last weekend was massive, but so was the rest of the bench and we’ll be looking for more of the same on Saturday.
“At hooker, we’ve decided to rotate Bismarck with Adriaan Strauss, both of whom must rate amongst the best hookers in the world at the moment.”
Meyer said that the Springboks will need to be at their best, defend strongly and execute their attacking plays as well as possible on Saturday if they are going to be victorious against New Zealand.
Over the last three years since the last Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have established themselves as one of the best Test teams of all time, losing only once and drawing twice during this time.
“We’re well aware of the massive task that awaits us,” said Meyer. “There are areas of the game we know we have to improve on against New Zealand. We’d like to go out there and enjoy the occasion and carry on where we left off against Australia. Hopefully we can get quick ball, like we did towards the end of the Test in Cape Town.”
As for the All Blacks, the starting XV features just two injury-enforced changes from the team that won the tournament against Argentina last week and they are both in the forwards: prop Joe Moody will make his first Test start, coming in for Wyatt Crockett, while lock Jeremy Thrush gets his second start against South Africa this year, replacing Brodie Retallick.
“This weekend is shaping up to be another classic All Blacks-Springboks Test match with the two top teams in the world going head to head again on the Boks’ home patch.
“Even though we have won the Rugby Championship, this is the game we always look forward to playing each year. It’s a massive challenge which will be spurred on by a huge amount of personal and team pride. This group has always believed that enhancing the legacy of the All Blacks is one of its overriding responsibilities, so we will be looking to put in another quality performance on the park.
“However, we know we will be up against a desperate and determined South African team who will be under a lot of pressure to win, which will make them a very dangerous and formidable opponent.”
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Duane Vermeulen/Schalk Burger, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Schalk Burger/Warren Whiteley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 JP Pietersen.
All Blacks – All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Joe Moody. Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Ryan Crotty.