All Blacks look to lay down marker
July 28, 2011
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A week on from opening the most momentous months of their lives with a facile rout of Fiji, the latest crop of All Blacks charged with ending New Zealand's long wait for a second World Cup success kick off their Tri-Nations campaign with a game against South Africa.
The undisputed number one side in the world, the Kiwis appear to be in rude health ahead of their tournament opener. They racked up eight tries with impressive ease in their a 60-14 victory over the Fijians. They should find life a little more difficult against the Springboks but, then again, this is a Springbok side which has arrived in New Zealand without 21 players through injury. Allegedly, of course! The build-up to this game has been dominated by reports that those players that Bok boss Peter de Villiers has left behind are not injured at all and are actually working away in a secret training camp.
That allegation has, unsurprisingly, riled the Boks so they will no doubt be intent on making a point on Saturday. However, the All Blacks will be viewing this game as an early opportunity to remind the rest of the rugby world that they are close to unbeatable on home soil.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: All eyes will be on New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter, who will become rugby's record points scorer with just one successful strike on goal. The Crusaders ace currently stands just two points shy of Jonny Wilkinson's tally of 1,195 points so even a conversion will see Carter claim a record that he has always seemed destined to make his own.
New Zealand - Team News: As well as the return of Carter at fly-half in place of Colin Slade, there are also recalls for Jerome Kaino, Cory Jane and Sam Whitelock. The inclusion of Kaino at blindside flanker sees Adam Thomson switch to No.8, with Liam Messam the man to make way. Jane takes the place of Sitiveni Sivivatu and that results in Zac Guildford moving wings, while Whitelock has been preferred to Jarrad Hoeata in the second row.
South Africa - Player to Watch: Initially, we would have said debutant Gerhard Mostert given that the the Stade Francais-bound lock was only drafted into the squad last Sunday as a replacement for the injured Johann Muller and has now been thrown in the deep end following the withdrawal of Flip van der Merwe (ribs). However, our attention is now focused on two other Boks, namely Patrick Lambie and Morne Steyn. When Lambie was named in the starting line-up earlier in the week it was assumed that the youngster would line out at fullback. However, it emerged on Friday that Lambie will line out at fly-half in what is his first start for the Boks, with Steyn at 15, a position he has no previous international experience in. We await the results of this particular experiment with great interest.
South Africa - Team News: The inclusion of Mostert and Lambie represent two of four changes in personnel to the side beaten by the Wallabies in Sydney. Jean Deysel make his first start for the Boks, at blindside flanker, while Adi Jacobs has been recalled to the midfield at the expense of Wynand Olivier.
Key Battle: Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling did not enjoy the nicest of introductions to international rugby last weekend, with the two debutant props taking something of a pounding in the scrum alongside skipper and veteran hooker John Smit. They will have undoubtedly learned some valuable lessons on the day but they are almost certain to have an even tougher time of it against New Zealand's formidable front-row line-up of Wyatt Crockett, Andrew Hore and Ben Franks. Without a solid set-piece foundation to work off, the Springboks look set to struggle once again.
Trivia: South Africa have never beaten the All Blacks at the Westpac Stadium, having lost on their four previous visits.
Stats: An impressive 221 of Dan Carter's 1,193 international points have come against the Springboks.
"We have had a few injury challenges on this tour and last week was not a good start, but we have learnt from our game against Australia. There have been some frank exchanges this week and the players know what is expected of them and that this is their opportunity." - South Africa head coach Peter de Villiers talks up his side's chances of a shock win in Wellington.
""They are a proud rugby nation and won't want a repeat performance so we will have to be ready for that challenge. But we have had a good build-up this week and have picked a team we know that will be up for that challenge." - New Zealand boss Graham Henry is backing his players to get their Tri-Nations campaign off to a winning start
Prediction: South Africa showed admirable spirit and resilience against the Wallabies last weekend but shorn of a plethora of first-team regulars they never looked remotely capable of posting a win. They will find the going even tougher against an All Blacks side now likely to be devoid of any rustiness after last week's demolition of Fiji. A resounding home win for the Kiwis.
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