Date: 30th July 2011
Kick-off: 08:35 (BST)
Venue: Westpac Stadium
World Cup favourites New Zealand begin their Tri Nations campaign this weekend, hosting a South African side coming off the back of an awful start against Australia last weekend. The Springboks, without many of their starting players, went down timidly to the Wallabies 39-20 last weekend and despite the fact that they are again without a number of their stars, the 2007 World Cup winners will be more than eager to make amends for that opening loss. New Zealand, meanwhile, will be itching to hit the ground running as they continue their preparations for a home Rugby World Cup which is arguably theirs to lose, and will go into this test much fresher than their southern hemisphere rivals.
The Kiwis have dominated this tournament since its inception in 1996 and will come into the match with confidence. Despite a convincing win over Fiji last Friday, critics have been quick to say the side looked rusty and were far from encouraging in their execution. Naturally, regardless of the haul of points they reigned in, New Zealand will feel they have a point to prove and are clearly taking this year’s competition seriously. The side are not quite at full strength but they still have a host of game-winners turning out for them.
Dan Carter returns to the side having had a 20-minute stint against Fiji last weekend and will add both stability and creativity to the back line. He’ll be joined by Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith in the centres with the enigmatic Sonny Bill Williams likely to come off the bench to make his first appearance in front of home fans. Coach Graham Henry will also hope to match the Boks up front, but the inclusion of Jerome Kaino indicates that he is hoping the pack can help cause devastation across the field, and with talk of Richie McCaw perhaps slipping into Number 8 a few times, it could make for a curious game from a Kiwi point of view.
Rumours of a secret training camp where the supposed injured South African players are practising has again flared up the allegations of Peter de Villiers’ coincidental injury list. However, with that now put to rest, South Africa will be looking to rebound in the best possible way with victory this weekend. Despite the result there were signs of promise in South Africa’s game last weekend and the extra week together could well have helped them gel further as a squad.
However, the side will need to tighten their defence this weekend as the Kiwis are much less likely to squander mistakes like the Australians did, and they will need to avoid being punished for unforced errors. De Villiers has held back from making sweeping changes with only two new names in the side, the most interesting of which is Patrick Lambie, but we’ll get to him later.
What to expect
The weather two days before the game looks to be dry, so this is likely to be a fast-paced game. Dan Carter has been a little quieter in attack than his usual self during this year’s Super Rugby, but many expect him to have more of a run this weekend. As mentioned earlier, New Zealand’s execution against Fiji was lacking so nothing less than a marked improvement will do on that front.
South Africa will be looking for a marked improvement everywhere. The inclusion of Lambie at fly-half offers him the chance to lead the backline in attack, which could throw up some surprises.
All eyes on
It’s hard to say who will be watching who in this match as there are so many variables. If Richie McCaw does drop into Number 8 it will be interesting to see how he gets on. Thomson is not a solid 8 but if his captain and Kaino can work well in the loose it could prove fruitful. Carter has almost always been consistently good but it would be good to see him take a few more risks again. Additionally, a number of questions still linger over the centres, specifically Nonu and Sonny Bill. Will Henry try and find a way to accommodate them both?
Head to Head: Dan Carter vs Patrick Lambie
It goes without saying that Dan Carter will almost certainly be the first choice fly half for New Zealand come World Cup time, and only an idiot would think otherwise. However there is a slight feeling that he is becoming a little too comfortable and needs to reignite the spark he had last season. This is the perfect opportunity and it is a credit to the man that after what could easily be described as a consistent season, he is still being called upon to do more.
Coming up against Carter is a big ask for young Lambie, but it’s also an exciting opportunity for him to make his mark in the fly-half role. He doesn’t have the first choice backline outside him, and whether his pack will provide any sort of platform is questionable, but his performance may give an indication of how well he can control a game at this level.
I imagine Graham Henry and co will be telling their squad that anything less than the scoreline Australia beat South Africa by last week will be a failure. The Kiwis will want to make a statement and although a record win is probably not on the cards, I expect New Zealand to run in four tries or more. If it was a rainy day in Wellington the scales may have tipped closer to South Africa, but I expect that once the All Blacks break through for their first try, the gates will continue to open. New Zealand by 15 points.