Argentina host Australia in the wooden spoon game
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen conceded his side have been “cruising along” in the Rugby Championship, but accepts today’s title decider against South Africa at Johannesburg represents one of the biggest challenges in the sport.
The All Blacks have won all five matches they have played in the 2013 competition, with only South Africa offering any kind of threat to their supremacy three weeks ago at Auckland.
New Zealand came through 29-15 on that occasion, but Hansen knows the Springboks at Ellis Park are a different proposition.
“There’s a genuine edge and sense of excitement in the team,” Hansen said. “We’re looking forward to a massive challenge. That’s probably exactly what this team needs at the moment.
“They’ve been cruising along and winning games. When you’re continually winning all the time, you need something to get up for.”
South Africa need a four-try win, while preventing their opponents from picking up a bonus point of their own, to claim the title, and the Springbok winger Bryan Habana acknowledged he and his teammates face a tall order to prevent the All Blacks from completing the season with an unbeaten record.
“We have to make sure that not only our defence, but our attack, is vastly improved,” he said.
“So that not only are we playing in the right areas of the field, we are putting them under pressure on attack as well.
“When you have guys like Aaron Cruden and Israel Dagg, who have fantastic kicking games, you are going to be chased around the park a bit.
“It’s not only going to be a tactical game, it’s going to be a clever game as well. We have to think quite a bit about them.”
Today’s other game sees Argentina play host to Australia in a game that will decide who finishes at the bottom of the table, with the visitors currently holding a two-point lead.
Ewen McKenzie, the Australia coach, dismissed concerns that he was worried about the prospects of his side earning the wooden spoon, and said: “We look at this as an opportunity to beat Argentina here.
“This hasn’t been an easy place for Australia to play, ever, so you concentrate on that bit instead of worrying about the what-ifs or the negatives.”
* Press Association