Springboks confident for ‘ultimate challenge’

Auckland – The Springboks are bristling with confidence that they can break open fortress New Zealand when they face the All Blacks tomorrow in a top-of-table Rugby Championship clash.

South African coach Heyneke Meyer said beating the world champions on their home turf is “the ultimate challenge” while the hosts see the game as their toughest since winning the World Cup two years ago on the same Eden Park ground.

The All Blacks’ incredible home record is there to be broken, Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers said as he rated his side’s preparation for the test between the world’s top two sides as their “best ever”.

History is stacked against the South Africans, with the All Blacks on a 30-match winning streak at Eden Park, a venue where the Springboks last won 76 years ago.

The All Blacks have not lost in New Zealand since 2009 when the Springboks beat them 32-29 in Hamilton, and that result, said De Villiers, has proved a huge motivating factor.

“It just shows nothing is impossible. It’s first of all a massive challenge, but secondly one that we can really look forward to.”

While the Springboks are buoyant, the All Blacks, who will be without injured skipper Richie McCaw, have toned down their prematch rhetoric.

“The team that executes their game with the greatest effectiveness, clarity and intensity will be the one that comes out on top,” said coach Steve Hansen.

Although the All Blacks have won all six tests they have played this year, stand-in captain Kieran Read acknowledged they are yet to produce a complete performance.

“But we’re confident in our abilities and know that we can play a lot better than we have done,” he said.

The visitors go into the test with a one-bonus-point advantage over the All Blacks and a win on Saturday would make them difficult to overhaul, as their last two matches, against the Wallabies and All Blacks, are at home in South Africa.

New Zealand play Argentina away in their penultimate fixture in the four-nation southern hemisphere championship.

The robust Springboks command a 30kg advantage in the forwards, suggesting the All Blacks will look for quick turnover ball at the breakdown, which should suit McCaw’s replacement Sam Cane.

This will be the biggest test of 21-year-old Cane’s brief career, but Hansen believes he has the required mental toughness.

“He’s ready. He’s a good athlete and mentally he’s able to put things in perspective,” the coach said.

The Springboks have retained the same line-up that thrashed the Wallabies 38-12 last week, while the All Blacks have made five changes from their 28-13 win over Argentina.

Some, such as Cane, were injury enforced, but the surprise selection on form is that of Dane Coles at hooker ahead of veterans Keven Mealamu and Andrew Hore.

Coles has only started in two of his eight tests and weighs 96kg, considerably lighter than the hulking Springbok Bismarck du Plessis, who hits 112kg.

Meyer sees a weakness in the All Blacks scrum, although he concedes they could command the line-out.

Both back lines relish playing with pace and width, which, if the forecasted rain holds off, opens up try-scoring opportunities, meaning the game could come down to the accuracy of the kickers.

Morné Steyn has only missed three of 28 shots at goal in this series while Dan Carter, whose only outing so far was against Argentina, could only boast a 57% success rate.


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