Following last week’s 43-12 thumping of the Wallabies in Pretoria, South Africans can be forgiven for thinking that the Boks can knock over the New Zealanders at Mount Smart Stadium (9.05am SA time kickoff).They played some exhilarating rugby at Loftus Versfeld, mixing panache with traditional power, and that performance bodes well for their Rugby World Cup campaign.
But All Black coach Ian Foster rolled out the heavyweights when he named his team on Thursday to take on the world champions this weekend, and it’s going to be a proper contest.
The major change in the backline sees Richie Mo’unga reinstated at flyhalf from the side that beat Argentina 41-12 in Mendoza last week, and the Crusaders playmaker will have a point to prove after Damian McKenzie’s dazzling display in the No 10 jersey in South America.
Mo’unga, though, has the pace, attacking skills and kicking game to stretch the Bok defence, and in partnership with Aaron Smith, they will try to unlock the visitors by bringing in a loaded backline into play.
Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane form a dynamic centre pair, with their size and speed sure to provide a serious test for Bok duo Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am.
There are two new wings in the shape of Will Jordan and Mark Telea, who many consider to be the best in New Zealand at the moment.
Well, Saturday’s Test is the ideal opportunity to back up that claim as they are facing the Boks’ two World Cup-winning speedsters in Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe.
McKenzie has surprisingly been left out of the entire match-23, and considering his versatility, that was a big call from Foster, who has gone with a centre in Braydon Ennor and a wing in Caleb Clarke as his outside backs cover.
In the pack, there are two significant figures back in the tight-five in lock Brodie Retallick and hooker Codie Taylor.
Sam Whitelock is fit again, but was left out as a precaution, so Retallick and Scott Barrett’s clash with Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager will be a titanic one that could decide the game.
The six-two split Bok ‘Bomb Squad’ bench is definitely stronger on paper, with the likes of Malcolm Marx, RG Snyman, Duane Vermeulen and Manie Libbok able to make a real impact in the second half.
The reserve New Zealand front row of Samisoni Taukei’aho, debutant prop Tamaiti Williams and Nepo Laulala will face a baptism of fire against Marx, Thomas du Toit and Vincent Koch, while fullback Beauden Barrett may have to move to flyhalf to accommodate any backline changes in the second half.
Asked if this was his best All Black team, Foster told New Zealand media on Thursday: “We’ll find out. We’re still making a few decisions based on, I guess, a bigger picture in terms of making sure we get everyone in the best possible shape through the rest of the year.
“But in the meantime we’re delighted with this group. It’s test two. We answered a few questions (in Argentina). We went into last week with some clear objectives about people and how we wanted to do things, and this is another chance to test that.
“And there’s nothing better than playing South Africa. It brings out the best in both teams. We love these games, and yes, we will get a clear mark of where we’re at.
“But it’s also just another little step on the ladder.”
All Blacks team: 15 Beauden Barrett 14 Will Jordan 13 Rieko Ioane 12 Jordie Barrett 11 Mark Telea 10 Richie Mo’unga 9 Aaron Smith 8 Ardie Savea 7 Sam Cane (captain) 6 Shannon Frizell 5 Scott Barrett 4 Brodie Retallick 3 Tyrel Lomax 2 Codie Taylor 1 Ethan de Groot.
Bench: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho 17 Tamaiti Williams 18 Nepo Laulala 19 Tupou Vaa’i 20 Dalton Papali’i 21 Finlay Christie 22 Braydon Ennor 23 Caleb Clarke.