CAPE TOWN – If World Rugby was in possession of a sacred scroll detailing the must-have attributes of a mythical rugby team that dominated the sport in centuries gone by, you can bet a few blocks of gold that the All Blacks meet at least some of those qualities.
Their long-stretching dominance would prove that, and while no such ancient scroll exists to anyone’s knowledge, New Zealand's mentors have done pretty well with the points they've dotted down in their notebooks in modern times.
The powerhouse second row of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock is likely to combat the Boks in Wellington on Saturday, when Rassie Erasmus’s group have a chance of following up their historic 2018 win.
“Things change with every generation. Ten years ago it was maybe more set-phase orientated. When you look at the two of them, their work has expanded. Watching Brodie taking an intercept at the weekend, second-rowers doing that kind of work, they’ve shifted the bar, as every generation does," said Proudfoot.
Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert could line up alongside the New Zealand duo, while Lood de Jager and RG Snyman are also part of the lock squad.
Pieter-Steph du Toit seems to have found his home at blindside flank, and it’s likely that he’ll again feature there in a match that could do a lot for either side ahead of their World Cup opener.
“We’ve got four very good locks here who are really keen to challenge themselves against those two," Proudfoot said.
“I don’t think it’s just the two of them (Retallick and Whitelock) as a combination; I think when you put Kieran Read in, the three of them together, that’s when you see how good they really are together.
“I think the line-out and the four second-rowers and what they get up to are going to be a fascinating part of the game. Defence, carrying the ball up, contesting the ball up in the air...it’s such a magic part of the game and what these big guys can do.
“It’s just indicative of where modern rugby is, how these big guys can put that work in.”
Last year’s win at the same venue is, of course, a significant sub-plot.
Following their narrow win over Argentina, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said they’re not going into this weekend’s blockbuster seeking revenge, and Proudfoot is of the opinion that not too much can be read into last year’s result.
“It was a really significant win, but I suppose every underdog gets his day, so we don’t give too much credence to that," he said.
“We’ve been working really, really hard on improving as a squad for the World Cup. Preparation started in 2018 when the coaching structure changed and SA Rugby wanted to go in a new direction. Processes have been occurring and we’re a happy squad.
“You can see we’re looking to moving in a new direction with the style of rugby we play, and we’re just happy with where the squad is. We’ve still got some time before Japan, so there’s still some work to be done.”
He also said that the fixture will provide more room for growth for their less experienced players, much like their comfortable win against the Wallabies did.
“It’s another opportunity to play the world’s best team. We’re in preparation for our World Cup campaign and I suppose like every other team we split our resources last week to try and handle the constraints of the Championship this year.
“We’re going to do the same this week and expose some of those guys who haven’t been here to playing the world’s best team in New Zealand."