All Blacks look to turn the screw
July 15, 2010
Graham Henry's All Blacks can take a firm grip on this year's Tri-Nations with victory in Wellington © Getty Images
New Zealand will look to take a firm grip on this year's Tri-Nations with victory over South Africa at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.
The All Blacks opened their account in this year's battle for southern hemisphere supremacy with an eye-catching 32-12 mauling of their old rivals at Eden Park last weekend and a similar result in the re-match will put the hosts on course to reclaim the Tri-Nations crown they have won six times in the last eight years.
Last weekend's result saw New Zealand snap a three-game losing streak at the hands of South Africa, who had little answer to a high-octane and clinical performance from the hosts. Graham Henry's side powered to a vital bonus point by outscoring the visitors by four tries to none. The emphatic scoreline was just part of the story for the distinctly average Springboks, who saw lock Bakkies Botha yellow carded and later suspended for nine weeks for a head-butt on All Blacks scrum-half Jimmy Cowan. The alarm bells will also have been ringing as the hosts made a mockery of the Springboks' supposed lineout superiority.
Suddenly the Springboks' demolition of France last month looks a long time ago and their hopes of retaining the Tri-Nations crown appear remote unless they can rediscover the spark that propelled them to glory last year. Peter de Villiers' side resembled the one which laboured against Italy and they looked worryingly drained in only the first outing of a gruelling three-Test away leg, with a refreshed Wallabies awaiting their arrival in Brisbane next week.
Failure was not an option for Graham Henry's All Blacks, with their recent high-profile failures at the hands of South Africa still fresh in the mind and the 2011 Rugby World Cup looming large on the horizon. And his charges responded by extending the Springboks' woe at Eden Park, where they have not won since 1937, in what may yet prove be a hugely influential psychological blow. History also stands in South Africa's way this weekend with the Westpac Stadium also having failed to produce an away win in three previous visits.
De Villiers has refused to hit the panic button and has instead granted the vast majority of his line-up the opportunity to make amends. His hand was forced by Botha's latest indiscretion, with Danie Rossouw promoted from the bench, while an injury to Jannie du Plessis paves the way for CJ van der Linde to start at tight-head. The All Blacks fielded their most experienced side ever last week - but as the result of their changes it is the turn of the Springboks to re-write the record books. The 700 Test caps boasted by their starting XV eclipses the record set by the side that defeated England in the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final. Ryan Kankowski steps up to the bench to fill the void left by Rossouw.
A hamstring injury to winger Joe Rokocoko prevented Henry from granting the same side the chance to inflict more damage to the Springboks' hopes but the All Blacks' boss has also swung the selection axe despite the impressive showing in Auckland. Scrum-half Jimmy Cowan is the unlucky recipient who must handle the rejection while nursing the bruises inflicted by Botha.
The exciting talent that is Blues' utility back Rene Ranger gets the nod on the wing for his first start in an All Blacks jersey, having only made his international bow against Wales last month. His promotion caps a superb season for the 23-year-old - one of a handful of rising stars poised to break through in World Cup year. In contrast, the experienced Piri Weepu is handed the No.9 jersey after impressing off the bench last weekend and is set to make a rare start in what will be his 40th Test appearance. The only other change in the 22 sees Israel Dagg introduced as outside back cover on the bench in place of Richard Kahui, who injured his shoulder in the Auckland Test.
New Zealand's commitment to a fast and incisive game last weekend brought them due reward and that success is likely to lead to another masterclass in counter-attacking rugby this time around if they are granted the luxury of time and space. But their ability to dominate as they did in Auckland will depend largely on how quickly the Springboks can address their own shortcomings, with their failure to match the All Blacks in terms of pace and intensity the biggest concerns for De Villiers and Co.
The All Blacks will sense blood in the water and will be all too aware of the value of another crushing victory over their fierce rivals, but this current crop of Springboks are a far better side than their last performance suggested. South Africa have shown in recent years that they have what it takes to upset the form guide and the history books - with victories in Hamilton last year and Dunedin in 2008 - and it will take a similarly epic display to knock the All Blacks out of their stride.
New Zealand: M Muliaina (Chiefs); C Jane (Hurricanes), C Smith (Hurricanes), M Nonu (Hurricanes), R Ranger (Blues); D Carter (Crusaders), P Weepu (Hurricanes); T Woodcock (Blues), K Mealamu (Blues); O Franks (Crusaders); B Thorn (Crusaders); T Donnelly (Highlanders); J Kaino (Blues); R McCaw (Crusaders, capt), K Read (Crusaders)
Replacements: C Flynn (Crusaders), B Franks (Crusaders), S Whitelock (Crusaders), L Messam (Chiefs), J Cowan (Highlanders), A Cruden (Hurricanes), I Dagg (Highlanders)
South Africa: Z Kirchner (Bulls); J de Villiers (Western Province), J Fourie (Stormers), W Olivier (Bulls), B Habana (Stormers); M Steyn (Bulls), R Januarie (Stormers); G Steenkamp (Bulls), J Smit (Sharks, capt), CJ van der Linde (Cheetahs), D Rossouw (Bulls), V Matfield (Bulls), S Burger (Stormers), F Louw (Stormers), P Spies (Bulls)
Replacements: C Ralepelle (Bulls), BJ Botha (Ulster), A Bekker (Stormers), R Kankowski (Sharks), R Pienaar (Sharks), B James (Bath), G Aplon (Stormers)
Referee: A. Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: A. Lewis (Ire), S. Dickinson (Aus)
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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