All Blacks set for fresh challenge in South Africa
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP South Africa v New Zealand:NEW ZEALAND, who last week added the inaugural Rugby Championship title to the World Cup, have set themselves a fresh challenge in today’s match against South Africa in Soweto.
The All Blacks did not meet the 2007 champions during their successful World Cup campaign last year and, although they beat the Springboks 21-11 in Dunedin three weeks ago, errant goalkicking cost the visitors 20 points.
“Our big goal is to be better than we were 12 months ago and, if we don’t get things right tomorrow, then we’ll undo a lot of the good work we’ve done,” captain Richie McCaw said yesterday. “Even though we’ve won the Rugby Championship, there’s still this big challenge ahead of playing the Springboks at home. It will be a huge test of where we are as a team.”
Number eight Kieran Read said the test of true champions was to win away from home.
“It would really cement our number one status to win away from home against one of the top sides. If we don’t win, then a lot of what we’ve achieved goes out the window,” he said.
“To be number one, you can’t just win at home and it’s really important to win this weekend, there’s no bigger challenge than playing the Springboks at home.”
Soccer City, the venue for today’s match, has a capacity of 94,700 and has hosted just one Test, the match between the same two sides two years ago.
One of the great matches in the 91-year rivalry between the two rugby powerhouses was won with a last-minute try by New Zealand fullback Israel Dagg, spoiling Springbok captain John Smit’s 100th Test.
All Blacks’ coach Steve Hansen said the daunting surroundings would only increase the determination of his side, who have won their last 15 matches, just three short of the world record set by Lithuania in 2010.
“Sure, 90,000 people will make a lot of noise, but if you do things right on the field then you quieten them down and it becomes your place.
“The players get excited about playing at venues like that, it’s a magnificent stadium,” Hansen said.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said his team were desperate not to lose the gains of last weekend, when they hammered Australia 31-8 to end a record five-match losing streak against the Wallabies.
“We played very well last weekend, but the pressure is still on us to perform. Australia had injury upon injury during that game, which definitely had an impact, so we’re not suddenly thinking we’re a great team,” de Villiers said.
“We’re happy with the improvement shown but we’re very aware that we need to step up to another level this weekend.
“If we put on a bad show, then we’re back where we started. We need to keep on evolving and, in this country, that’s usually judged by the result.”
Twenty-year-old Springbok outhalf Johan Goosen has been identified as a key figure and McCaw said the All Blacks would concentrate on disrupting the quality of his possession.
“Goosen certainly played well last week, he got good ball and used it well so guys like Bryan Habana could benefit. He certainly backs himself and we’ve seen his ability with the Cheetahs in Super Rugby, so we’ll have to keep an eye on him and limit the amount of good ball he gets,” McCaw said.
The experienced Ruan Pienaar will also be critical for the Springboks at scrumhalf, tasked with protecting Goosen as South Africa go in search of a ninth victory over New Zealand in 13 Tests in the greater Johannesburg region.
“There’s a lot hanging on this Test, it’s important for us and a massive game for New Zealand, they’ve got a lot riding on it as they chase the world record for consecutive wins,” Pienaar said.
“Our forwards will need to be even better than in Dunedin because the All Blacks will come out firing. All 22 of us will have to make a massive step up and if we kick poorly, then they will punish us because they have great finishers like Dagg who can score from his own 22.
“We’re going to have to make lots of tackles, ensure that they are first-time tackles and not give them any momentum.
“And we need to take our opportunities, that’s what was lacking in New Zealand. You only get two or three opportunities against the All Blacks, we have to take them, be patient and play in the right areas.”