South Africa's Canan Moodie and New Zealand winger Will Jordan.

Springboks and All Blacks look to be timing World Cup run nicely ahead of Twickenham clash

The two sides meet in a blockbuster World Cup warm-up clash in London tonight.

EVEN WITH ENGLAND playing on home soil for the last time before they depart for the World Cup, there’s a sense there’s only one show in town at Twickenham this weekend – and it isn’t the one involving Steve Borthwick’s side.

The RFU have reportedly shifted only 40,000 tickets for England’s World Cup send-off v Fiji on Saturday, a number which highlights the apathy around Borthwick’s team. 

Yet 24-hours earlier the same ground is set to welcome a bumper crowd of 82,000 for the box-office meeting of South Africa and New Zealand [KO 7.30pm, Sky Sports Mix], as two genuine World Cup contenders prepare to put on a show for their London audience.

It’s an intriguing fixture for two sides who will hope to hit the ground running in France, with South Africa facing Scotland in their first pool game on 10 September, two days after the All Blacks take on the hosts in a blockbuster tournament opener in Paris. 

And both the Springboks and All Blacks will head into the World Cup with realistic ambitions of making the final on 28 October.

South Africa haven’t quite been the beast of old in the lead-up to this World Cup but the Boks look to be timing their run nicely and there is a sense Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber have a few more surprises left up their sleeves.

The Springboks’ brains trust have named a formidable side for tonight’s contest but there’s an interesting selection at midfield as Canan Moodie makes his first Test start at centre. The Bulls man has been electrifying on the wing and it will be interesting to see how his skills transfer to midfield.

In the back row, Siya Kolisa continues as captain following his star turn against Wales last week. Kolisi was incredibly sharp across his 40-minute cameo against Gatland’s misfiring Wales side on his first game back from the knee injury which had threatened his involvement in this World Cup.

siya-kolisi-carries-into-contact Andy Watts / INPHO Siya Kolisi was brilliant against Wales last weekend. Andy Watts / INPHO / INPHO

His return is a major boost for the defending champions and after a mixed summer, the Boks are looking dangerous again.

While Wales were poor in Cardiff last week, South Africa were fit, powerful and accurate in running up 52 points, making a noticeable effort to play with more width.

Tonight will provide a clearer indication of where they stand but Ireland’s pool opponents will be confident about their chances in France. Their pack remains their obvious point of strength and Munster’s Jean Kleyn – a World Cup tourist with Ireland in 2019 – has impressed since joining the squad this summer.

If there is a concern, it surrounds the 10 jersey. Manie Libbok is an exciting athlete in open-play but his place-kicking and game control can be a source of frustration. South Africa will be a stronger side if Handre Pollard – who missed out on the initial World Cup squad – sneaks into the 33 that travels to France.

The Pollard question remains one to watch, but tonight Libbok gets the stage to show he can be the big game player the Boks need.

As with any warm-up game, the result isn’t the be-all and end-all but South Africa will be determined to avoid a repeat of their last meeting with the All Blacks. 

In a Rugby Championship clash in Auckland last month, the visitors found themselves 17-0 down after just 16 minutes, and while they eventually pulled a few scores back to lose 35-20, there was never any coming back from that disastrous start.

Interestingly, New Zealand take to the field today with the same backline that started that Rugby Championship tie.

Like the Boks, the All Blacks haven’t had the smoothest of World Cup cycles but things appear to be falling into place at just the right time.

New Zealand played some thrilling rugby on their way to winning a condensed Rugby Championship and are ticking along nicely as they bid to improve on their run to the semi-finals in 2019.

Former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has been a shrewd addition to Ian Foster’s coaching team. After a spell of thoroughly underwhelming performances Schmidt was drafted in to help steady the ship and his influence has been telling. 

joe-schmidt Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO Joe Schmidt was a smart addition to the New Zealand coaching team. Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO / John Davidson/INPHO

As a squad, the All Blacks now appear more organised and clear in their roles while some of their attacking play has been typically devastating.

Winger Will Jordan looks like a player primed to light up this World Cup. The 25-year-old’s ongoing migraine issues have been a concern – forcing him out of New Zealand’s northern hemisphere tour last year – but Jordan has been at his scintillating best over the summer, with his display against the Boks last month one of his most impressive in the black jersey.

Richie Mo’unga and Aaron Smith are a classy half-back pairing and Beauden Barrett has shone at fullback. 

In the pack, Scott Barrett is arguably in the form of his life and Ardie Savea remains one of the game’s elite number eights.

Luke Jacobsen might just be the man to watch tonight. The backrower was sent home a week before the 2019 tournament due to a head injury but Foster has handed him a rare start on the occasion of his 15th cap.

These must be strange weeks for Foster. The former Chiefs out-half is heading into the biggest test of his coaching career but he knows that however things play out in France, he’ll be clearing out his office as Scott Robertson prepares for his impending promotion.

It’s been a messy couple of years for New Zealand rugby, but typically, they have the look of a team who will take some beating when it matters most.

We already know Ireland will face the Springboks in the group stages on 23 September but if Andy Farrell’s side are going to achieve something special in France, there’s a decent chance they’ll have to overcome New Zealand along the way.

Tonight we’ll get a clearer idea at how two of the prime contenders are shaping up as the main event looms large.

SOUTH AFRICA: Damian Willemse; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi; Manie Libbok, Faf de Klerk; Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain); Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff.

Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche, Trevor Nyakane, Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman, Marco van Staden, Cobus Reinach, Willie le Roux.

NEW ZEALAND: Beauden Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Telea; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Ethan de Groot, Dane Coles, Tyrel Lomax; Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett; Luke Jacobson, Sam Cane (captain), Ardie Savea.

Replacements: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Josh Lord, Tupou Vaa’i, Dalton Papali’i, Cam Roigard, Anton Lienert-Brown.

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