It is so appropriate that Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria hosts this afternoon’s final Springbok showdown in the 2018 Rugby Championship.
It is the Cathedral of South African rugby.
The All Blacks have already won the tournament, for the sixth time in the last seven years. They also won the World Cup in 2011 and 2015 in what has been the most dominant of eras the game has ever known.
Appreciate the skill and excellence of the men in black this afternoon. They are among the finest to have played the game. They’ll revel in the occasion, despite having already won the Championship.
Trophies are great but the All Blacks are defined by every Test match played. Each Test is a World Cup final for the men in black.
Every other team remembers the matches won against the All Blacks. In New Zealand, the most significant recall is the matches the All Blacks have lost.
And the most recent is against the traditional foe South Africa.
The 36-34 reverse in Wellington a few Saturdays ago was bittersweet for Kiwi rugby supporters.
There was the disappointment of the All Blacks losing at home for only the second time in the past 58 Tests, but there was also the sweetness that the conqueror wore South African green-and-gold and not Australian gold-and-green.
The Springboks remain New Zealand’s greatest opponent. No team in history has beaten the All Blacks more than the Springboks.
The past decade has been a South African rugby betrayal of that rivalry. The Boks have won just three from 18, but even in defeat, there has never been an easing of the rivalry.
The two successive 57-pointers the All Blacks scored in 2016 and 2017 were an aberration of this rivalry.
The average score in the Heyneke Meyer era (one win in eight between 2012 and 2015) against the greatest All Blacks team ever was 27-18.
The 2015 World Cup semi-final ended 20-18.
Last year’s Test in Cape Town was a one-pointer to the All Blacks, and the most recent match in Wellington was a two-pointer to South Africa.
HIGHLIGHTS: 2018 TRC Rd 4: New Zealand v South Africa
It was a real classic of Freedom Cup history, with the @Springboks scoring their highest ever points tally in New Zealand against @Allblacks, to win 34-36. #RugbyChampionship #NZLvRSA pic.twitter.com/06ibF4stTR
— TheRugbyChampionship (@SanzarTRC) September 15, 2018
New Zealanders want the Springboks to be strong because if the Springboks are primed, it means the All Blacks have to find another gear.
South Africa, New Zealand and Wales are the three countries in the world where rugby is a priority.
What defines South Africa’s rivalry with New Zealand is historically the results. Wales have the passion to match South Africa in what an All Blacks match means; they simply don’t have the results.
South Africans, in South Africa, don’t appreciate how New Zealanders revere the best Springbok players and teams.
If you haven’t lived in New Zealand, you wouldn’t get just how much respect there is (in a rugby sense) for the Springboks.
New Zealand’s back-to-back World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw played 148 Tests and lost just 15.
McCaw rated John Smit’s 2009 Springboks as the greatest team he has ever played against.
Another of the colossal All Blacks, former captain Sean Fitzpatrick, always speaks of leading the All Blacks to a first ever series win in South Africa at Loftus in 1996 as the equal of winning the 1987 World Cup.
— TheRugbyChampionship (@SanzarTRC) September 20, 2018
There isn’t a bigger Test match than New Zealand against South Africa. Understand the history, celebrate it and respect it.
Enjoy the haka for what it is today, and actually appreciate the significance of the challenge instead of attempting to drown it out with boos.
This rivalry demands respect and not insult.