CAPE TOWN – There’s no area that won’t be important when the Springboks go up against the All Blacks tomorrow, every single one will count. Both sides will obviously want the win. Both sides will want to prove a point in Wellington. Both sides will want to go into their World Cup opener knowing they got the upper hand in their last meeting. And that, again, makes every mini battle a key one.
Nonetheless, here are three areas that could be especially interesting.
The All Blacks like quick ball, they thrive on it.
The fact that Kwagga Smith will represent the Boks at No 6 adds extra spice to this contest - not only is he an impressive ball player, as Rassie Erasmus described him in the week - but his speed to the breakdown and that bulldog-like attitude he has on the ground will be much needed. The Boks also have the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Malcolm Marx who can do their thing on the deck.
They are armed with impressively capable breakdown operators, and using that to spoil the opposition’s party and curbing the likes of Shannon Frizell, another dynamic Kiwi baller, from pouncing around those edges is vital.
Set pieces are going to have to be defended and aced to lay an attacking platform, but there are so many subtleties to be enjoyed when it comes to tomorrow’s second-row line-ups.
Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert will be going up against the most experienced lock pairing in world rugby, and individually, their resumes almost look even better.
Sam Whitelock is excellent in the line-out and in the loose he’s superb, overall he’s the perfect example of the modern day lock.
His basketball-like skills and seemingly bottomless tank make him someone to focus on beyond the line-out as well. The ever-imposing Brodie Retallick is as big in the line-out as he is in the scrum, and there’s also his overall athletic class and those big carries.
Luckily for the Boks, their second row can hardly ever be considered inadequate.
Eben Etzebeth comes off a solid outing against the Wallabies, and besides that, the Bok hardman’s raw hunger for physical dominance, his big carries and just the presence he can be, make him, well, Etzebeth.
Then there’s Franco Mostert, a player who gives 100% all the time. Apart from his work rate, the way he carries, the way he works his way about the field, the way he can prove a hindrance at the opposition’s maul, all of that make an on-form Mostert a handful. And hopefully the All Blacks rediscover that tomorrow.
When it comes to counter-attacking and turnover ability, the All Blacks could make a living off just offering lessons on a Saturday afternoon.
The New Zealanders are dangerous when it comes to running the ball from the back - that ability to go from defence to offence is scary - and with the likes of Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane among the back three and how they can pounce in broken play, the Boks cannot be caught off guard.
But have you seen the South Africans’ artillery?
Cheslin Kolbe alone is a guy who can scoop up the oval from anywhere and make you pay for your mistakes. Smith's attacking and counter-attacking abilities make being a forward look sexy.
There are threats all round.
Beware the hands of Whitelock
I doubt the Boks need any reminding of just how street-smart Steve Hansen’s gang can be. But if they do, they just need to think back to the Crusaders’ Super Rugby semi-final against the Hurricanes.
Make what you will of how Whitelock knocked the ball out of TJ Perenara’s hands at a last-minute ruck, but it worked. And he did it so sneakily that he probably had Perenara questioning whether he might have really knocked it on or not.
Richie McCaw might not be around to act as the muse to a number of ‘entering through the gate’ memes anymore, but Whitelock showed that the Kiwis’ cunning stretches further than offside acts.
Kick-off: 9.35am (SA time)
Referee: Nic Berry
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.
Substitutes: 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 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff