LONDON –– The traditional rivalry of South Africa and New Zealand, the Sprinboks and the All Blacks, is to be reignited on the second biggest stage of all –– the Rugby World Cup semi-final tomorrow at Twickenham.
It looms as a disappointing fixture, with South Africa scraping past Wales in the quarterfinals, while the All Blacks blew France off the park, breaking several records on their way to a 62-13 win.
On the basis of that alone, many are tipping the All Blacks to breeze through.
But it wasn’t that simple for New Zealand earlier this year in the Rugby Championship, and it’s unlikely to be here.
South Africa are a proud side, with plenty of good players, a resilient coaching staff and a game plan that keeps them in games.
A late Richie McCaw try saw the All Blacks take a game the Springboks had the better of for much of the first half, and portions of the second, earlier this year.
Since then, the All Blacks have gone through relatively unscathed, barring a loss to Australia in Sydney.
They were threatened by Argentina in the World Cup pool match, but managed to escape with a good win. Their decimation of France has tipped the balance, with many believing they’ve found the mojo of four years ago.
South Africa, on the other hand, have had a turbulent few months. Losses to Australia away, Argentina at home were followed by redemption against Argentina away.
A shock loss to Japan in the pool stages had many kissing their dreams of a World Cup victory off, but strong performances against Scotland and Samoa did a bit to reassure Boks fans.
An unconvincing win over Wales followed in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final, as they required a try to Fourie du Preez, after a brilliant draw and offload from Duane Vermeulen, in the last ten minutes to get to the semi.
Unconvincing, maybe, but it’s a new day and a new game. There’s no reason they can’t turn on a performance like the one in the Rugby Championship against New Zealand.
Make no mistake, South Africa will lift for the All Blacks. Their linespeed will be better, their hits will be harder. Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen, both impressive against Wales, will left again.
The All Blacks will not be given the same opportunities they were against a fractured French team.
Don’t expect another half century to be racked up in this one. Expect the forward clashes to be bone-shaking, and the backs to not give an inch in defence. Whoever flinches will cede the advantage, and one fancies that if the Springboks give Julian Savea or Nehe Milner-Skudder any space, they could be in for a long night.
The scrum will be an intriguing battle.
New Zealand had the advantage of the French, who looked outmuscled in every department. South Africa will fancy their chances both here and in the lineout, and will target Dane Coles’ work at set piece.
The backrow battle will also be intriguing. If Francois Lowe can keep Richie McCaw out of the game, and make it more about collisions than work over the ball, one fancies that South Africa have the ball carriers to get over the game line.
But at this stage of the tournament all the analysis goes out the window as soon as the teams step out on the pitch.