All Blacks vs Springboks: Old foes ready to battle again
All eyes may be on the Rugby World Cup but the significance of the Rugby Championship Test between South Africa and New Zealand at the Westpac Stadium on Saturday isn't lost on the respective coaches.
The fact that the stadium has been sold out is one thing‚ but this is probably the only time this season these teams can feel each other out at full strength and they know it.
The respective teams they fielded in their wins against Australia and Argentina were good‚ but not their full strength sides.
Saturday's game will be the 98th encounter between the sides since 1921‚ 58 of which have been won by New Zealand with three draws.
That says a lot about New Zealand's dominance‚ coupled with the fact that they haven't relinquished the Rugby Championship since 2009.
There's that carrot for Springbok coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus and the much needed momentum ahead of the September 21 World Cup game in Yokohama.
Erasmus has been smart enough not to look that far ahead‚ but with the selection of what looks like his strongest team‚ there's a clear message that he wants his team to win this game and let the rest of the World Cup build-up take care of its self.
Winning consecutive matches against New Zealand in New Zealand is easier said than done.
In the past 25 years‚ only three teams; France in 1994‚ Australia (2000 and 2001) and South Africa (2008 and 2009) have beaten New Zealand in consecutive Tests at home.
It's a tough ask for the Boks but as they unexpectedly showed last year‚ it's doable if your tactical‚ technical and selection ducks are in a row.
Erasmus‚ who picked a number of his first choice players like Duane Vermeulen‚ who'll be captaining the team‚ Frans Malherbe‚ Steven Kitshoff‚ Franco Mostert‚ Eben Etzebeth‚ Faf de Klerk‚ Handre Pollard‚ Lukhanyo Am‚ Willie le Roux and Cheslin Kolbe‚ has an idea of what his team will look like for the World Cup.
His focus though remains on the Saturday test.
“I'm pretty sure a number of the guys we've picked will be playing in the first Test.
"I'd be lying if I'd say the guys wouldn't be taking some belief but I look at 2011 and even 2015 when we lost to Japan and we got to the semi-finals.
"We're sitting here now thinking that this is the big one but in a month's time‚ there'll be a big one in Japan‚” Erasmus said.
All Black coach Steve Hansen rolled out the cavalry with the likes of Joe Moody‚ Owen Franks‚ Sam Whitelock‚ Kieran Read and Sonny-Bill Williams all coming back for this game.
Interesting selections were the half-back pairing of TJ Perenara and the in-form Crusaders pivot Richie Mo'unga‚ with Beauden Barrett slotting in at fullback.
Shannon Frizzell makes a starting appearance in the highly contested blindside flank position with other contenders Vaea Fifita and Dalton Papalii on the bench.
New Zealand also have hooker Dane Coles‚ scrumhalf Aaron Smith and versatile backs Anton Lienert-Brown and George Bridge on the bench.
It may be a side that's also playing for places‚ but that also puts the opposition in danger as players could be at their best when World Cup places are up for grabs.
This is something Erasmus is aware of and also knows New Zealand play better when they have a point to prove.
That being last year's 36-34 home loss to South Africa‚ their first one against the team since 2009.
“Good teams do what New Zealand did when they came to Loftus Versfeld. We were waiting for them‚ wanting to get the double and they beat us. That's what world class teams do. We're number five and they're number one and they showed us. We must handle it like they do‚” Erasmus said.
15 Beauden Barrett‚ 14 Ben Smith‚ 13 Jack Goodhue‚ 12 Sonny Bill Williams‚ 11 Rieko Ioane‚ 10 Richie Mo’unga‚ 9 TJ Perenara‚ 8 Kieran Read (captain)‚ 7 Matt Todd‚ 6 Shannon Frizell‚ 5 Sam Whitelock‚ 4 Brodie Retallick‚ 3 Owen Franks‚ 2 Codie Taylor‚ 1 Joe Moody.
16 Dane Coles‚ 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi‚ 18 Angus Ta’avao‚ 19 Vaea Fifita‚ 20 Dalton Papalii‚ 21 Aaron Smith‚ 22 Anton Lienert-Brown‚ 23 George Bridge
15 Willie le Roux‚ 14 Cheslin Kolbe‚ 13 Lukhanyo Am‚ 12 Damian de Allende‚ 11 Makazole Mapimpi‚ 10 Handré Pollard‚ 9 Francois de Klerk‚ 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain)‚ 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ 6 Albertus Smith‚ 5 Franco Mostert‚ 4 Eben Etzebeth‚ 3 Frans Malherbe‚ 2 Malcolm Marx‚ 1 Steven Kitshoff.
16 Mbongeni Mbonambi‚ 17 Tendai Mtawarira‚ 18 Trevor Nyakane‚ 19 Rudolph Snyman‚ 20 Francois Louw‚ 21 Herschel Jantjies‚ 22 Frans Steyn‚ 23 Jesse Kriel.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia)‚ Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)