Weather conditions could play a role in Springbok clash
Wet weather and difficult match conditions are said to be a given for the Springboks’ World Cup opener, but a global rugby audience is bracing itself for a special Springbok performance.
The Springboks, winners of the Rugby Championship, are also proving to be winners among locals and crowd attendance at open training sessions has consistently been close to 10000.
They have the advantage of having played a warm-up match against hosts Japan, with these two teams the only ones to have experienced local conditions as part of their preparations.
Japan, today, officially open the World Cup against Russia, but it is the Springboks’ showdown with the All Blacks that has everyone talking. It is the biggest Pool match of the weekend and many are calling it the first proper match of the tournament and a rehearsal for the final.
The All Blacks have dominated world rugby in the past 10 years and won successive World Cups in 2011 and 2015, but have struggled against South Africa in the past two years. The Springboks beat the All Blacks in Wellington in 2018 and earlier this year drew 16-all at the same venue. The All Blacks won 25-24 at Newlands in 2017 and 32-30 in Pretoria in 2018.
Never in the professional era have the two teams been so closely matched and it would again be no surprise if tomorrow’s match ended in a draw. Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has made one change to the match-day 23 that drew in New Zealand, while All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made nine changes to the starting XV.
Both coaches this week spoke of the respect each player had for the other’s rugby culture and rugby history.
It is the match, both coaches said, the players enjoyed the most and it was the ideal match-up to start the teams’ World Cup campaigns.
The Springboks’ 15-12 win against the All Blacks in the 1995 final remains one of the most iconic moments in World Cup history and tomorrow’s match will honour the late Chester Williams, who played in the 1995 final. Williams’s image will be embedded into the playing number on the team’s jerseys.
Frenchman Jerome Garces will officiate his 53rd Test, with South Africa having lost nine of the 13 when he has been the referee. Five of those defeats have been against the All Blacks. He is also the only referee to red card two All Blacks players, when he dismissed Sonny Bill Williams against the British and Irish Lions in 2017 and Scott Barrett against Australia earlier this year.@mark_keohane