New Zealand and South Africa face off in what will likely be the Rugby Championship decider on Saturday morning, with the All Blacks still smarting from the Boks last visit to Wellington.
South Africa edged an all-time classic between the two rivals at the Cake Tin 12 months ago, coming from 12-0 down to record a 36-34 triumph, their first win on New Zealand soil in nine years.
Although the reigning world champions extracted a measure of revenge by winning the reverse fixture in Pretoria, the wounds inflicted by a rare home loss for Steve Hansen’s men have yet to fully heal and this clash has been ringed on their calendar for some time.
However, South Africa always raise their game against the Kiwis and having dispatched Australia 35-17 with an under-strength side, it is far from certain that 2/11 favourites New Zealand will exact the revenge they crave.
Both teams took the decision to rest many of their big guns for their opening Rugby Championship matches with this clash in mind and so there have been sweeping changes to both starting line-ups.
For New Zealand, they have their Crusaders contingent back, boosting their pack, while TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane have been drafted into a totally revamped backline from the one that struggled past Argentina last weekend.
Beauden Barrett will move to full-back to accommodate Richie Mo’unga at fly-half as Hansen packs in the playmakers.
Boks coach Rassie Erasmus has retained only Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit from the forwards that started last week, while the man of the match Herschel Jantjies drops to the bench to make way for Faf de Klerk at scrum-half.
As has become tradition with South Africa, they are peaking in a World Cup year and have come a long way from the one-sided thrashing at the hands of New Zealand two years ago. With no more than two points separating the teams in their last three clashes, backing South Africa on the handicap marks perfect sense.
Australia’s clash with Argentina is the battle to avoid the wooden spoon and the Pumas can take advantage of a Wallabies team experimenting with their line-up ahead of the World Cup.
Head coach Michael Cheika continues to struggle to find an answer to Australia’s problems after a 12th loss in their last 16 games in South Africa and has turned to ‘bad boy’ James O’Connor – making his first Test appearance in six years – in the hope he can provide a solution.
It was a familiar tale for Argentina last week as they gave a good account of themselves against New Zealand, only to walk away empty-handed. However, this is a Pumas side packed full of potential having selected a large chunk of the Jaguares squad that reached the Super Rugby grand final.
The South Americans won in Australia last year and can run the home side close again. However, given the Aussies record at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, winning their last five Tests at the venue, it could be another case of so close and yet so far for Mario Ledesma’s men.
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