South Africa vs New Zealand | Saturday 25 July | Ellis Park | 17:05
What was shaping up to be the most anticipated game of rugby this year outside of the World Cup has been doused somewhat by a bucket load of injuries to the Springbok squad. Ideally, both coaches would have looked to this test as a measuring gauge to see how their teams cope in a high intensity encounter, as well as to use the match as a dummy run for a possible encounter between the two sides in the World Cup playoff phase. However, with the Springbok camp having more patients than some hospital wards, Heyneke Meyer is likely to field a very different looking team to the one that will be on the field during the business end of the World Cup. Despite some big name absentees, this still should be a typically fierce encounter between the two great rivals, especially considering it’s taking place at a stadium once famously dubbed “Fortress Ellis Park” by Springbok supporters and players alike.
To Win (80mins)
South Africa 14/10
New Zealand 6/10
South Africa (+3.5) 9/10
New Zealand (-3.5) 9/10
With the All Blacks already five points ahead of the Springboks on the log, a loss in this one would signal the end of Heyneke Meyer’s third crack at the Rugby Championship. However, a win would put them right back into contention. If the Springboks are to overcome the current world champions, they are going to have to abandon the kick-at-all-costs game plan that saw them fall to pieces in the final twenty minutes at Suncorp. Whilst the South African backline remains unchanged a plethora of injuries amongst the forwards has forced Meyer to make two personnel changes and a positional switch to his starting pack. Heinrich Brussow comes into the side for the first time since 2011 due to an injury to Marcel Coetzee. Elsewhere in the pack, Cheetahs lock Lood de Jager comes in for the injured Victor Matfield, whilst the aforementioned Coetzee’s absence sees Francois Louw shifting to the openside berth. Meyer has also reshuffled his bench with props Vincent Koch and Trevor Nyakane taking Frans Malherbe and Heinke van der Merwe’s spots on the pine. Flip Van Der Merwe returns from international retirement to provide cover for Etzebeth and de Jager whilst Cornal Hendricks comes in for Lwazi Mvovo, who enjoyed yet another all expenses paid holiday abroad courtesy of SARU.
As expected, the All Blacks took a full five-point haul from their opening clash against the Pumas. Whilst Steve Hansen will be happy with his side's start to their campaign, there were a few aspects of their game that will cause a bit of concern. Their susceptibility to the rolling maul would have been their main focus point during the week, having conceded two tries against Argentina in this manner. They are likely to face similar tactics at Ellis Park this weekend, with Heyneke Meyer being a big advocate of using the lineout maul as an attacking weapon. Hansen has made some surprising changes to his starting line-up, with Highlanders young gun Lima Sopoaga coming in for veteran pivot Dan Carter. Sopoaga will renew his halfback partnership with Highlanders teammate Aaron Smith who comes in for the impressive TJ Perenara. Another Highlander who will take to the field this weekend is Ben Smith. Smith takes the place of his Otago team mate Waisake Naholo, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a broken tibia. The other change to the All Black backline sees Conrad Smith take the place of Sonny Bill Williams in the centre. Hansen has also decided to mix things up in his forward pack with James Broadhurst coming into the second row for Luke Romano, whilst hooker Dane Coles and loose forward Liam Messam come into a formidable looking pack. Despite the wholesale changes New Zealand will fancy their chances against a young South African team, who showed they are extremely susceptible to pressure last weekend.
VERDICT: New Zealand (-3.5) 9/10
As much as my heart is telling me to back the nation of my birth, my head says All Blacks to walk this one. And as we all know when it comes to gambling, never let the heart make a decision. Richie McCaw’s side to take the spoils, and if you’re feeling bold it may be worth your while to take them to clear a margin a -5.5 handicap at 11/10.