After the All Blacks’ November victory against England in 2013, a banner reading “We are the most dominant team in the history of the world,” was found scrawled on a white board in the visitors changing room at Twickenham.
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Upon being quizzed about the ‘arrogant’ slogan in a press conference, the New Zealand coaching staff were forced into clarifying that the banner was a motivational aspiration, not an egotistical pat on the back.
Two years on and Steve Hansen’s men stand two victories away from becoming the first team to retain the World Cup and with it, fulfilling their prophesy.
In their way stand a resurgent South Africa that have been galvanized by a shock loss to Japan into producing some frightening displays of power en route to the semi-finals.
New Zealand’s win-ratio of 58% against South Africa is by some way their poorest margin of return in international rugby and the All Blacks will not be taking their old nemesis lightly.
— Jonathan Davies (@JiffyRugby) October 23, 2015
Earlier this week New Zealand centre Conrad Smith paid his respects to the green and gold labeling South Africa as his team’s ‘ultimate rival.’
The reason for such high-handed praise comes from a similar mentality and approach to rugby from junior-level upwards between the two nations. South Africans, like kiwis, are born into a society where rugby is law and with it, an innate belief that they should win every game they play.
There is an enormous amount of respect between the two sides, whose players have come to know their opposite numbers almost as well as their own during regular clashes throughout the year and win or lose will always share a drink post-game.
After a disastrous Rugby Championship and calamitous opening round at the World Cup, the Springboks have reverted back to their tried and tested power-game to devastating effect.
With one-off runners hitting the gain-line at speed off the fly-half, expect some gruesome collisions. This game is likely to be an exciting war of attrition more than a free-flowing display of champagne rugby.
It is not often that second-rows occupy the limelight in a game but on Saturday it will be more than just rugby aficionados who will be keen to see the outcome of the engine-room battle.
In Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth South Africa possess an abundance of raw power, while 2014 IRB Player of the Year Brodie Retallick is a shrewd lineout operator that will cover every inch of the field for New Zealand.
It is no secret that New Zealand’s primary strength lies within their superior fitness and ability to punish teams out wide with quick ball.
If South Africa’s bully-boys are able to out-scrum their counterparts, be disruptive at the breakdown and slow the attack, this game – like the last four between the teams – will go down to the wire.
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