Boks bid to block All Blacks' path to world record
AN UNEXPECTEDLY good performance up front in Dunedin, a surge in form against the Wallabies and their opponents' mind- and muscle-numbing travel schedule.
These are positives the Springboks hope will help carry them to a confidence-boosting win against the All Blacks in their Four Nations clash in Soweto on Saturday.
A win would also handily bring to a halt the All Blacks' aspirations of breaking the world record of 17 consecutive Test wins - a target from which they are three short.
While tomorrow is all about maintaining momentum for the All Blacks, the Springboks know they have to aim higher.
They have in recent weeks played with greater cohesion and purpose but scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar knows where they need to improve.
"We need to take our opportunities. That is something we lacked in New Zealand. We created two or three opportunities that we didn't finish. I think in Tests you only get two or three chances against the All Blacks. It's about being accurate, patient and playing in the right areas. We have to be better than we were in Dunedin," said Pienaar.
Encouragingly, the Boks were better in many areas when they convincingly beat the Wallabies at Loftus, so at least the performance curve is slanting upward.
While they have to be clinical, they also have to exact a physical toll even greater than the one they produced on tour. While they were superb in this area in the team's last clash they will now have the added grunt of firebrand lock Eben Etzebeth.
"With a guy like Eben you don't have to say much apart from 'go out and hurt people'," lock partner Andries Bekker pointedly observed.
Etzebeth missed the previous clash because of suspension, but from all accounts he's frothing at the mouth to have a crack at the All Blacks.
While the Springboks' solid forward effort also incorporated a marauding maul, Bekker cautioned against over-deploying it tomorrow: "You are not going to score a rolling maul try from 30m or 40m. The big thing is to set it up and get the backs into space. You want guys like Bryan [Habana] and Jean [de Villiers] running onto the ball at pace."
While the Springboks named an unchanged team, the All Blacks yesterday made two changes to the line-up that won in La Plata.
Hosea Gear comes in for Julian Savea, while Brodie Retallick replaces Luke Romano.
Coach Steve Hansen, a man who hides his excitement well, looked mildly enthused about the prospect of the current world champions squaring off against the previous holders.
"We are in no doubt about how big the challenge is for the team this weekend but it is one we are looking forward to as it will be a real test of our resolve and character. South Africa are coming off a big win against Australia and will be playing in front of their home crowd at Soweto, so it's going to be a huge Test match."
Hansen is clearly unperturbed about the hype of his team having to face a crowd in excess of 80 000.
"We've played in most places around the world and we have found that most places are the same. The lines are marked out the same way and it has got a halfway and a 22."