South Africa v New Zealand
Boks to edge All Blacks in another Joburg thriller
Sam Bruce
July 24, 2015
Rugby Championship Preview: South Africa v New Zealand

Responsible for the some of the finest Tests of recent times, the Springboks and All Blacks will write the latest chapter of their storied rivalry at Ellis Park this weekend. Contests between the two sides at the Johannesburg venue rarely disappoint, though both teams have injuries and Rugby World Cup preparations influencing their selection thinking this time around.

Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer must be recapping his recent movements for evidence of a black cat crossed, such has been the Springboks' rotten run with injury. Veteran lock Victor Matfield and workhorse back-rower Marcell Coetzee are the latest players added to Team Rehab, though the recall of Heinrich Brussow from Test exile should ease some of the pain for fans of the Bokke. The wounds are likely still a little raw from the last-gasp loss to the Wallabies yet their first-half performance was high on quality, and exactly the kind of effort Meyer desires for the full 80 minutes.

Team News

  • South Africa: Overlooked at Test level for the last four years, flanker Heinrich Brussow is finally back in Springboks colours. An injury to Marcell Coetzee sees the Cheetahs breakaway return to Test-match rugby for the first time since Rugby World Cup 2011 while injured veteran Victor Matfield has been replaced by Lood de Jager. The only change to the backline sees Cornal Hendricks added as a late replacement for JP Pietersen while Vincent Koch, Warren Whiteley, Trevor Nyakane, Flip van der Merwe and Lionel Mapoe are new faces on the bench.
  • New Zealand: Lima Sopoaga and James Broadhurst each debut in this most hostile of cauldrons, but they are surrounded by experience - the starting forward pack boasts 500 Test caps, with a further 320 caps in the starting backline and 217 on the bench. Steve Hansen has made five more changes, naming Dane Coles at hooker, Liam Messam at blindside flanker, Aaron Smith at half-back, and Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith in midfield partnership, and Ben Smith replacing Waisake Naholo on the right wing; Smith's selection on the wing sees Israel Dagg get another start at fullback.

With an array of talent the envy of all, New Zealand opted to leave Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams at home following the comfortable win over the Pumas. The only real concern to come out of that match was their ineffective defence of the Pumas' rolling maul that yielded back-to-back tries and later brought a curious remark from coach Steve Hansen: the All Blacks boss described the tactic as "boring" but admitted his side needed to improve their response for a play that we'll likely see a lot of at Rugby World Cup 2015. Boring they may be; though few can deny their effectiveness when executed correctly.

In form

It had the potential to be a troublesome debut opposite Tevita Kuridrani, yet Jesse Kriel looks set for a lengthy Springboks career after impressing at outside centre in Brisbane last weekend. The 21-year-old Bulls back spent the majority of the Super Rugby season at full-back but looks to be perfectly suited to No.13, and appears every bit as talented as the South African pundits suggest. Kriel marked his debut with a superb solo try that showcased his speed and footwork; he also tabled nine runs for 81 metres, six defenders beaten and one clean break.

Kieran Read a difficult 18 months since he was named the 2013 IRB (now World Rugby) Player of the Year with the No.8 battling both concussion and injury at regular intervals. The Crusaders captain finally looks to have put those issues behind him and, following a patchy display against Samoa, he was back to his dominant best in Christchurch last weekend. His all-round skill set is well known, but it was further enhanced by an 80-minute display at home that featured a try, 12 runs for 68 metres, three clean breaks and three offloads. His battle with Springboks No.8 Schalk Burger is one of many juicy head-to-head contests.

Kieran Read was a standout performer for the All Blacks last weekend © Getty Images
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Out of form

It's a little unfair to point the finger at rising Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard such is his lack of experience at the top level; but Meyer will want more defensive certainty in the midfield channel if he is to persist with the Bulls playmaker at No.10. Pollard was twice exposed by the Wallabies in Brisbane and, while Damian de Allende was partly to blame for Adam Ashley-Cooper's try, Pollard's second-half, one-on-one miss on Matt Giteau was simply a poor attempt at tackle. Still, he clearly remains the Springboks' best attacking fly-half, and this week's returns to the scene of his superb display against the All Blacks from last year.

Out of form among the All Blacks? Really? Israel Dagg remains under pressure for the No.15 jumper, with Ben Smith the best full-back in New Zealand, but Waisake Naholo's season-ending injury, and Smith's subsequent selection on the wing, affords him another chance after a solid game against Argentina. Beauden Barrett is under most pressure for his spot, however, with the Hurricanes fly-half on the bench behind debutant Lima Sopoaga. Barrett finished the Super Rugby season with a couple of below-par performances after a knee injury, while Sopoaga stepped up to the plate to steer the Highlanders to title victory.

Ruck'n Maul: Ben Smith not Israel Dagg
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Key battle

Tests between the Springboks and All Blacks have been played at such a pace at recent times that fitness and ball retention will go a long way to deciding this one. The breakdown quality on both sides of the pitch is obvious, though Heinrich Brussow's return to the Test fold provides a throwback to some awesome battles at the tackle from year's gone by. The winner won't be decided until the final minutes; the team that keeps their composure in the closing stages will come away with the spoils.

Key stats

  • The Springboks have lost two of their past four Tests in Johannesburg, after a run of eight straight wins at the venue.
  • New Zealand produced the fewest kicks from hand (11) in the opening round of Super Rugby, while South Africa came up with the most (27).

Odds

South Africa are $2.25 and New Zealand $1.64

Tip

It's supremely difficult to settle on a winner here, but the appointment of referee Romain Poite may just swing the ledger in the home side's favour. The Frenchman can be quite pedantic at times, and the stop-start nature that comes with that could benefit the Springboks' kicking game. They will need to be far more assured at lineout time, while Meyer is likely to have reconsidered his bench strategy after the second-half fadeout in Brisbane. Heinrich Brussow is also a perfect four from four against the All Blacks. Springboks by three.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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