It’s the one we’ve all been looking forward to since the fixtures were announced: New Zealand vs South Africa.
These giants of world rugby renew their historic rivalry on the sport’s greatest stages, playing out their seismic Rugby World Cup Pool B opener at Yokohama on Saturday.
It promises to be a match full of drama and intrigue, with the winner inevitably set to go on and top the group.
Here’s a look at three key talking points.
South Africa rolled out their starting XV on Wednesday morning, while New Zealand are set to name their team on Thursday.
The Springboks side is unchanged from the team which thrashed Japan in their final warm-up match two weeks ago, and a team that only features one change from the side that drew 16-16 with New Zealand last month when captain Siya Kolisi was injured.
Both teams could potentially meet in the final depending on how they fare in the knock-out stages.
If New Zealand top the group they will have to face Scotland and England on their path to the final.
If the Boks finish second, they will face Ireland in the quarters and Wales in the semis.
There is no easy passage to advance to a World Cup final, but an early win will certainly set the tone for their respective tournament prospects.
HANSEN’S DUAL STARS
Whether Steve Hansen opts for Richie Mo’unga or Beauden Barrett at fly-half remains to be seen, but it he does select both playmakers in his starting XV, then it’ll be enthralling to watch.
Although many fans prefer to see Barrett’s creativity at 10, he is still a class act at full-back, eyeing gaps from deep that other players can’t normally see and using all his skill and intelligence to put his wingers into formidable attacking positions.
He also pairs well with Mo’unga, a player who hasn’t put a foot wrong in his last three games for the All Blacks.
The Crusaders man may not be the same fizzing presence as Barrett, but his accurate kicking and ability to control the game is getting better as each match passes.
If New Zealand are to topple the Springboks, Mo’unga and Barrett will be chief conductors to the orchestra.
While the forward battle is set to be a thunderous duel, it’s the aerial battle that could prove decisive in Yokohama.
Against Japan two weeks ago, Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard employed the kicking option all afternoon so the Boks could rehearse their defensive lines ahead of the long periods of attack they expect from the All Blacks.
An elusive outside trio of Cheslin Kolbe, Willie le Roux and Makazole Mapimpi possess enough pace and footwork to match whoever the All Blacks name in their back three.
On the New Zealand side, George Bridge and Seevu Reece are the form wingers, but Hansen may recall Rieko Ioane – with 23 tries in 26 matches – because of his safety under the high and solidity in defence. Barrett should start 15.
Kicking is key to most contests, but one of the other crunch areas is going to be how Rassie Erasmus’ bigger forward pack handle the breakdown in the humidity of Japan.
The All Blacks always find a way to grind out victory, and Hansen will want his most trusted lieutenants on the filed as he bids to earn his first win on the way to a potential third successive Webb Ellis trophy.
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