PREVIEW: Just 80 minutes stand between South Africa and the start of their World Cup title defence.
However, the quality of the opposition at Twickenham on Friday, New Zealand, could make the next fortnight a painful period.
With the All Blacks’ convincing 35-20 Rugby Championship win in Auckland last month still fresh in the minds, this Test on the hallowed Twickenham turf gives both teams a chance to make one final statement going into the World Cup.
The mix-and-match nature of the Springboks’ build-up this year is in stark contrast to the ‘steady as you go’ approach by the All Blacks.
If the Kiwis win – as expected – it will leave Jacques Nienaber and his Boks with more questions than answers.
However, the Springbok coach believes it will all fall in place before they face Scotland in their tournament opener in Marseille on September 10.
The contrasting styles of the three warm-up games – Argentina, Wales and now New Zealand – are all part of the process of preparing the Boks for the diverse challenges they will face in France.
Nienaber admitted that the All Blacks are likely to look for another ‘fast start’ at Twickenham – a scenario South Africa have prepared for.
“I expect a high-tempo game [from the All Blacks], with continuity and looking for offloads,” the Bok coach said.
He said the advantage of playing a team twice in quick succession is that it gives you a chance to ‘find solutions’ and implement those plans.
And playing at a neutral ground, Twickenham, adds to the intrigue of an already #BIG occasion.
“It is exciting,” Nienaber said about the “special occasion”.
“I am not sure who will have the most support,” he said, adding: “But when South Africa plays New Zealand it is an occasion where you want to triumph.
“It will be a great experience for us all.”
For All Black coach Ian Foster Friday’s face-off is a great Test match two weeks before a World Cup.
“The only way to go into this is full throttle,” Foster said.
The Kiwis will be full of confidence after they secured the Rugby Championship with big wins over Argentina, South Africa and Australia – with back-to-back Bledisloe Cup wins giving them a perfect four-from-four start to 2023.
“This is our final game before the World Cup and this Test is critical in our preparation,” Foster said.
“With just two weeks to go, it’s a significant opportunity to get us battle-ready for the start of the tournament.
“These games are always intense and physically challenging, and I’m sure this one will be no different.”
Foster made it clear there is no ‘fear’ about injuries.
“Some things are part of the game,” he said, adding: “If you go in worrying about consequences you go in half-hearted and then those things [injuries] are almost guaranteed to happen.
“The same things are going to happen in the World Cup.
“This is ideal for us – a big game, to acclimatise to Europe and the sort of build-up we need.”
The All Black coach said the Boks bring the usual attributes to a Test between the two arch-rivals – a strong pack and stoic-like defence.
He touched on Canan Moodie’s selection at centre, a ‘talented’ outside back which they don’t know much about – giving the Boks a bit of an ‘unknown factor’.
Players to watch
For South Africa: The selection of Canan Moodie in midfield has been one of the big talking points this week. Whether he can convert his form as a schoolboy centre to the international stage remains to be seen. He will partner Andre Esterhuizen in the centres. Makazole Mapimpi and Kurt-Lee Arendse are on the wings, with Damian Willemse starting at fullback. Faf de Klerk returns at scrumhalf to partner flyhalf Manie Libbok. There is also a new lock pairing in Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert, while veteran No.8 Duane Vermeulen brings some much-needed experience to a back row that features fellow World Cup winners Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
For New Zealand: Luke Jacobson will make his first Test start of the year, in place of the injured Shannon Frizell – earning his 15th cap in an experienced pack featuring more than 500 Test appearances as a member of a back row also including captain Sam Cane and Ardie Savea. Apart from Jacobson’s selection, there are two other changes to the starting side that put on a show against the Springboks in Auckland last month – also in the forwards. Veterans Dane Coles and Sam Whitelock will start against the Boks. The backline, which includes Will Jordan on the right wing, is the same.
Head to head
SA-v-NZ-head-to-head |SA-v-NZ-recent-results | SA-v-NZ-win-percentage
New Zealand by 12 points
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Canan Moodie, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Marco van Staden, 22 Cobus Reinach, 23 Willie le Roux.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Jordie Barrett, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (Captain), 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Josh Lord, 21 Dalton Papali’i, 22 Cam Roigard, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Date: Friday, August 25
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 19.30 (20.30 SA time; 18.30 GMT; 06.30 Saturday, August 26 NZ time )
Expected weather: Partly sunny, with mild winds. High of 21°C, with a low of 12°C
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
* Additional reporting by AFP