Auckland - The Rugby Championship clash between South Africa and New Zealand at Eden Park on Saturday could prove to be a seminal moment for both nations in their preparations for the 2015 World Cup.
“This isn’t a World Cup final, it’s just one more step in our journey,” Heyneke Meyer said on Wednesday. “But it is really special playing at New Zealand’s home of rugby and where the All Blacks are unbeatable.”
Nobody has beaten the All Blacks in 31 Tests at their Auckland fortress since France snuck out of town with a 23-20 result in 1994.
“We’re playing the best team in the world, and we’ll face them at their best,” added the Springbok coach.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for the All Blacks, especially for what they’ve achieved and what they represent. We’ll really have to dig deep.”
Meyer’s team laid down a marker by powering to their biggest win against the Wallabies in a rare triumph in Brisbane last week. That victory was significant, but a win against the world champions at their home base would establish South Africa as the team to beat with two seasons remaining before the global event launches in England.
The Bok coach appreciates the statistical value of a possible win, though he’s more rapt with the opportunity to face up to the All Blacks challenge in person.
“It will be a great occasion just going on to the field and facing the haka and breathing in the atmosphere of the crowd,” he said. “I believe it’s a sign of respect.
“I sometimes get crazy in the coaching box, and I get embarrassed when I see it on TV, but I don’t believe you can make quality calls if you don’t get into the atmosphere, feel the excitement and feel the pressure, and that’s why I almost feel like I’m on the field with the players facing the mighty All Blacks.
“The history between the two sides goes back for ages and, taking nothing away from Australia, but this week I could just see I don’t have to say anything, the guys know they’re in for the battle of their lives.
“I’m probably the only coach who stands on the sideline until after the haka, but that’s what rugby is all about. It’s a big honour being here and we can really feel the atmosphere, and that’s why I coach rugby.
“I’ll definitely stand there on Saturday and get goosebumps, I believe the haka is one of the great things in rugby.”
Meyer’s forwards smashed the Wallabies into submission last week and he said he felt the entire pack had excelled last week against the Wallabies.
“I just felt that the team scrummed well and did a lot of things well,” Meyer said. “I have a lot of confidence in the pack. I think they have done well.”
South Africa have made steady progress during Meyer’s first two seasons at the helm and are now less than three points behind New Zealand on the latest IRB world rankings.
“When we started this journey, we were ranked fourth in the world,” added Meyer. “We made a commitment to excellence and to be the best team in the world.
“To do that, you have to beat the best team in the world, and you have to do that where they are unbeatable.
“Last year we didn’t play badly (in Dunedin), we actually played well at certain stages and they beat us convincingly (21-11). You have to take every opportunity in these Tests and we didn’t do that last year.
“This will be the All Blacks at their best, and that’s a massive challenge.”
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Juandré Kruger, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Jano Vermaak , 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Bok record at Eden Park
Played 9, Won 2, Lost 6, Drawn 1
2010: All Blacks 32 Springboks 12
2001: All Blacks 26 Springboks 15
1997: All Blacks 55 Springboks 35
1994: All Blacks 18 Springboks 18
1981: All Blacks 25 Springboks 22
1965: All Blacks 20 Springboks 3
1956: All Blacks 11 Springboks 5
1937: All Blacks 6 Springboks 17
1921: All Blacks 5 Springboks 9
* Zelim Nel is on tour with the Springboks for Independent Newspapers