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Deep interest for Ireland as All Blacks and Boks get set for titanic contest

‘If we play to the best of our ability then it doesn’t matter who we play,’ warned Steve Hansen.

ON WHAT SHOULD be a truly spectacular opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, one fixture stands out even amongst a raft of superb fixtures.

All Irish eyes will be on Joe Schmidt’s side opening their campaign against Scotland on Sunday, of course, but the entire rugby world will be watching as the All Blacks and Springboks go head-to-head in Yokohama tomorrow [KO 10.45am Irish time, eir Sport].

This match-up is of particular interest to Ireland, with Schmidt’s team on course to meet one of the Southern Hemisphere giants in the quarter-finals, barring a pool-stage disaster.

new-zealand-perform-the-haka The All Blacks and Springboks face off tomorrow. Source: Photosport/John Cowpland/INPHO

Schmidt and his players will, therefore, tune in tomorrow with notepads at the ready and they would probably welcome these two knocking lumps out of each other. There is something special about the All Blacks-Boks rivalry that is all the more enjoyable for the South Africans’ revival under Rassie Eramus.

“It’s a rivalry that has been going since I was a kid,” said Boks captain Siya Kolisi today. “I remember watching when I was younger, and it’s been going on for a couple of years.

“They were quite dominant before the past two years, and then we had to fight back as a team to make sure that we got a little of the respect back. We are in a good place at the moment and the rivalry is the best it’s been in a while.”

From a rugby perspective, there is so much to look forward to here.

The Boks are the most aggressive defensive team in the world, with their wings – the diminutive but brilliant Cheslin Kolbe and the prolific Makazole Mapimpi – tasked with shooting up and inwards even on the very edges of the defence.

With athletes like Pieter-Steph du Toit, Damian de Allende, Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen, the Boks are arguably the most physically powerful team in the world, exemplified by their hitting and carrying power. Even smaller players like Kolbe and scrum-half Faf de Klerk appear to relish the contact.

How the All Blacks attempt to get through or over or around Jacques Nienaber’s defence will be fascinating. 

Kiwi boss Steve Hansen has stuck with the dual playmaker model of pairing Richie Mo’unga at 10 with Beauden Barrett at 15 in one ploy to do so. Watch out for their attacking kicking.

An intrigued French journalist today asked Hansen where the idea for the 10-15 axis had occurred to him, perhaps in the shower?

“I don’t think about rugby in the shower,” said Hansen after a laugh.

beauden-barrett Barrett is now at 15. Source: Photosport/Grant Down/INPHO

“I think if you go through history, there’s always been two playmakers in New Zealand.
Initially, we used to call our number 10 the first five-eighth and the number 12 the second five-eighth.

“It’s only been in the latter part of our history that we had a player like Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams who weren’t five-eighths, they’re more centres. As a result, we thought that we’d probably need another five-eighth on the park to help steer the game.

“The way we want to play it, you need a couple of people to play at depth – one to play left and one to play right. So, that’s where it’s come from.

“It’s been in development. We had Damian McKenzie coming along nicely and then he got injured, of course. That necessitated us to put Beauden and Richie in that role.”

Hansen has opted for Ryan Crotty’s underrated decision-making ability in the 12 shirt, while the inclusion of the relatively inexperienced Sevu Reece and George Bridge on the wings means Rieko Ioane – 23 tries in 26 Tests – misses out on the matchday squad altogether. 

With the relentless Ardie Savea having recently moved to blindside flanker, the All Blacks have had plenty of change in their first-choice XV and Hansen will hope it’s enough to overcome the physical power of Eben Etzebeth and co., who will be directed by Handré Pollard at 10 – an excellent defender and kicker but not a very creative player.

The winner of this tie will almost certainly top Pool B – with games against Canada, Namibia and Italy to come – and then one of the Boks and All Blacks are set to take on Ireland.

“This game is all we can control,” said Hansen of that prospect. “We don’t know what will happen in the other pool. We could win this pool and Scotland could win theirs, or Ireland could.

japan-new-zealand-rugby Ireland are set to face the All Blacks or the Boks in the quarter-finals. Source: Eugene Hoshiko

“I think you can get too smart if you start thinking about things like that. You’ve just got to live where you are at the time and make sure you do it well.

“If we get to the quarter-final then it’s about making sure we turn up that day right and come back to work on Monday regardless of who we’re playing.

 “The one thing I do know is that if we play to the best of our ability then it doesn’t matter who we play; they’re going to have to play really well to beat us and if they do so then well done to them and we have to accept that.

“But if they don’t, then they may have to accept the consequences.”  

New Zealand:

15. Beauden Barrett
14. Sevu Reece
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
12. Ryan Crotty
11. George Bridge
10. Richie Mo’unga
9. Aaron Smith

1. Joe Moody
2. Dane Coles
3. Nepo Laulala
4. Sam Whitelock
5. Scott Barrett
6. Ardie Savea
7. Sam Cane
8. Kieran Read (captain)

Replacements:

16. Codie Taylor
17. Ofa Tuungafasa
18. Angus Ta’avao
19. Patrick Tuipulotu
20. Shannon Frizell
21. TJ Perenara
22. Sonny Bill Williams
23. Ben Smith

South Africa:

15. Willie Le Roux
14. Cheslin Kolbe
13. Lukhanyo Am
12. Damian de Allende
11. Makazole Mapimpi
10. Handre Pollard
9. Faf de Klerk

1. Steven Kitshoff
2. Malcolm Marx
3. Frans Malherbe
4. Eben Etzebeth
5. Franco Mostert
6. Siya Kolisi (captain)
7. Pieter-Steph du Toit
8. Duane Vermeulen

Replacements:

16. Bongi Mbonambi
17. Tendai Mtawarira
18. Trevor Nyakane
19. RG Snyman
20. Francois Louw
21. Herschel Jantjies
22. Frans Steyn
23. Jesse Kriel

Referee: Jerome Garces [France]

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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