AUCKLAND // South Africa's recent success against the New Zealand All Blacks has ensured today's opening Tri Nations game will rekindle the intensity of famous clashes between the traditional foes. The Springboks, the world champions, have won their last three tests against the All Blacks and their last two on New Zealand soil, which has generated intense interest for today's match at Eden Park.
"It's great that there is a lot of talk and interest in the game," Richie McCaw, the New Zealand captain said yesterday. "That's the way it should be. "[But] we have to be careful that we don't get caught up in that. We want to go out and deliver and make it a game that Kiwis enjoy, and we will enjoy that, too." The two sides have a storied history, embellished by tales of the likes of retired New Zealand heavyweight boxing champion Kevin Skinner being brought in to "sort out" the Springboks' front row in 1956.
However, since South Africa were readmitted to world rugby in 1992, clashes between the two sides have failed to feature the same kind of electricity. For a generation of New Zealanders, Bledisloe Cup encounters against Australia became the year's most eagerly anticipated Test matches. "I was a kid growing up through the apartheid era and I sort of never watched those games," Conrad Smith, the All Blacks centre, said. "For me growing up it was always Australia that was the biggest challenge when I dreamed of playing for the All Blacks. But now I think, along with a lot of other people from my era, we're realising the special nature of playing the Springboks. I think it's great."
John Smit, the South Africa captain, said that while New Zealanders' interest in the fixture may have waned, the Springboks had always felt Test matches with the All Blacks were the pinnacle of their game. "It's that test that you look forward to," he said. "It's the one where the butterflies are flapping around. I think it's probably because of the isolation, with South Africa not playing for a while, the Bledisloe Cup and the matches against Australia became quite important to the locals here. But I think the All Blacks and the Springboks have done pretty well in changing that around."
While the Springboks have won their last three matches against the All Blacks, they have not triumphed at Eden Park in six attempts since 1937. "Not a lot of these guys have had a crack on an international level on Eden Park," Smit said. "It will be history, which will be the biggest factor for the team." Only Smit, lock Victor Matfield and replacement fly-half Butch James were on the team the last time the two squads met, in 2001.
"Some of the guys have had a bit of luck in Super 14, but it's pretty different," Smit said. "Winning away from home is pretty hard and at these big fortresses it will be a big task for us." McCaw said the losses to the Springboks were a motivating factor for his team. "But you can't just rely on that to mean there is going to be a difference out there," he said. "That might add a wee bit of extra edge but the guys are pretty excited. "It's the start of the Tri Nations and we start off with two home games. We are against a pretty good team and we are going to have to play our best." * Reuters
New Zealand Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Jaque Fourie, Ma'a Nonu, Josevata Rokocoko, Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw, Jerome Kaino, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.Replacements: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui South Africa Zane Kirchner, Jean de Villiers, Conrad Smith, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Ricky Januarie, Pierre Spies, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Jannie du Plessis, John Smit, Gurthro Steenkamp. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, BJ Botha, Andries Bekker, Danie Rossouw, Ruan Pienaar, Butch James, Gio Aplon