In their last four meetings, two or fewer points have separated these teams - with New Zealand coming out on top in Cape Town in 2017 (25-24), South Africa securing a historic victory in Wellington (36-34) last year, the All Blacks edging the Boks (32-30) in Pretoria later in 2018 and their Wellington rematch ending in a 16-all draw earlier this year.
While we all too often hear that Rugby Championship results mean nothing in a World Cup year, there were a lot of lessons and positives the Boks could take from the truncated tournament.
So, here are two of the standout things from the Boks’ Rugby Championship-winning campaign and their warm-up win against Japan they should copy and paste going into the Yokohama Blockbuster and two things they should erase.
What to copy and paste
The Boks’ linespeed was a big factor during the Rugby Championship, and it again got the job done in Kumagaya last week as they put the hosts under pressure with the smother technique and forced them into errors. Overall, the South Africans’ defensive effort was massive in their 41-7 drubbing of the Brave Blossoms as they showed good cohesion and made 164 hits with a tackle-completion rate of 90%. They also scrambled well, especially in the second half, and there’s no doubt that their defence will have a big say in how far they go if they manage to keep it up.
The six tries the Boks scored against Japan weren’t the result of captivating backline interplay or attacking moves that looked like they were dreamt up by a master choreographer, but the most pleasing part to me was the mere fact that we have seen the Bok backs score some superb tries after enjoying some time on the ball, not only against Japan, but during the Rugby Championship as well. Makazole Mapimpi’s dangerous finishing was highlighted when he grabbed a hat-trick against the Brave Blossoms. Sbu Nkosi’s power, physicality and pace were put on display when he crossed the white line that matters during the Rugby Championship. Cheslin Kolbe has consistently thrilled with his always-on-the-lookout attitude and that pace - as again seen against Japan when he scored that intercept try - while Herschel Jantjies has flagged himself as an attacking gem always ready to pounce and save the day. The contributions of these guys will be huge come the World Cup.
What to erase
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but you can’t help but feel that Faf de Klerk’s box-kicks have become almost too predictable. It was again the case against Japan. Whether it’s under instruction or not, the Bok scrumhalf will have to refine his game in that department. Such play could easily become readable by the opposition, the All Blacks in particular, and that’s never a good thing.
Goal-kicking and tactical flaws
While I mentioned De Klerk’s box-kicking because of its predictability, more accuracy by the No 9 when putting ball to boot will also help a great deal when it comes to the Bok wings competing for the high ball. It’s the same with the kicks to touch. It wasn’t an issue during the Rugby Championship, but in the Boks’ final warm-up, Handre Pollard failed to find touch a few times, while he also missed two kicks to posts that could be considered easy ones by his standards. Yes, he slotted three out of five conversions, but you need only look at results from the recent past between the Boks and All Blacks to understand that it could all come down to a single kick at goal.