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South Africa v New Zealand, Tri-Nations, July 25
All Blacks eye upper hand
Huw Baines
July 23, 2009

South Africa host New Zealand at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday in the latest chapter of one of the most iconic and keenly contested rivalries in world rugby.

Both sides will be high on confidence, with the Springboks having had a brutal workout in their 2-1 series win over the British & Irish Lions and the All Blacks having struck the first blow in this year's Tri-Nations with their 22-16 win over Robbie Deans' Wallabies in Auckland last weekend.

The Springboks have never beaten the All Blacks at Free State Stadium, their best result coming in an 11-11 draw in 1960. Despite this fact they do enjoy playing in Bloemfontein, and have only lost a single Test there since the advent of professionalism.

Their line-up for the game shows stability from their triumphant Lions series, with skipper John Smit remaining at tight-head in front of a second-row containing the returning Bakkies Botha. The rugged lock will be keen to get back on to the field after his two-week ban for a shoulder charge on Lions prop Adam Jones, and will doubtless relish the opportunity to welcome rookie All Black second-row Isaac Ross to South Africa.

In the back-row Heinrich Brussow again deputises for the banned Schalk Burger, the 23-year-old Cheetahs openside facing the toughest challenge of his fledgling Test career in All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw. Brussow, who will have been buoyed by his stellar performances against the Lions, will have to be at his limpet-like best against one of masters of the world game and the breakdown could prove to be decisive.

Against Australia, and their 100-cap veteran George Smith, the All Blacks recovered from a turnover-riddled start to close down any supply to Matt Giteau and the Wallaby backs. Their precision on the floor, often contributing only two players to a ruck, strangled the life out of Australia and the Springboks should have taken note.

Juan Smith and Pierre Spies complete the Springbok back-row and their ball-carrying will have to be first-rate. Jerome Kaino and Rodney So'oialo looked revitalised in Auckland and attacked the breakdown with genuine ferocity - not something that hints at a quiet day at the office for the Springboks.

Scrum-half Fourie du Preez and returning fly-half Ruan Pienaar will hope to see more of the ball than the Wallabies, but they must also be prepared to make the most of it when the ball comes their way.

All Blacks coach Graham Henry has tinkered with his backline, scrum-half Brendon Leonard replacing Jimmy Cowan and linking up with his Chiefs team-mate Stephen Donald. Henry will hope that the familiarity between the players will breed success, while Leonard's breakneck style should keep the Springboks on their toes.

Sitiveni Sivivatu adds his extra experience on the wing in place of Cory Jane, while arguably the two of the best centre partnerships in world rugby will go head-to-head. Munster-bound Jean de Villiers partners Jaque Fourie, in as a replacement for Adi Jacobs and not weakening the side one bit, while Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith continue in tandem for the All Blacks.

In what is sure to be a bruising encounter, the lineout could prove as vital as the breakdown. Andrew Hore starts at hooker for the All Blacks after his overthrows at the set-piece cost his side 10 points against Australia.

Botha and his partner-in-crime Victor Matfield will have watched his inaccuracy with interest and some will have questioned Hore's inclusion after Keven Mealamu's positive influence in the second-half last weekend.

With the Wallabies reeling and a Test in Durban following on August 1, this series-within-a-series could prove vital in the Tri-Nations title shake-up.

South Africa: Francois Steyn (Sharks); JP Pietersen (Sharks), Jaque Fourie (Lions), Jean de Villiers (Stormers), Bryan Habana (Bulls); Ruan Pieenar (Sharks), Fourie du Preez (Bulls); Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), John Smit (Sharks, capt), Bakkies Botha (Bulls), Victor Matfield (Bulls), Heinrich Brussouw (Cheetahs), Juan Smith (Cheetahs), Pierre Spies (Bulls)

Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle (Bulls), Jannie du Plessis (Sharks), Danie Rossouw (Bulls), Ryan Kankowski (Sharks), Ricky Januarie (Stormers), Morne Steyn (Bulls), Wynand Olivier (Bulls)

New Zealand: Mils Muliaina (Chiefs); Joe Rokocoko (Blues), Conrad Smith (Hurricanes), Ma'a Nonu (Hurricanes), Sitiveni Sivivatu (Chiefs); Stephen Donald (Chiefs), Brendon Leonard (Chiefs); Tony Woodcock (Blues), Andrew Hore (Hurricanes), Neemia Tialata (Hurricanes), Brad Thorn (Crusaders), Isaac Ross (Crusaders), Jerome Kaino (Blues), Richie McCaw (Crusaders), Rodney So'oialo (Hurricanes)

Replacements: Keven Mealamu (Blues), Owen Franks (Crusaders), Jason Eaton (Hurricanes), Kieran Read (Crusaders), Piri Weepu (Crusaders), Luke McAlister (Blues), Cory Jane (Hurricanes)

Referee:Alain Rolland (Ireland)

Assitant referees: N. Owens T. Hayes
Television Match Official: G. Hughes

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