Parallels between All Blacks' 100th test with Springboks and England loss
The 100th game between the All Blacks and Springboks is a fixture that’s been on the minds of many since the test calendar kicked off earlier this year and while the game has been relocated from Dunedin to Townsville, there’s still an exceptionally mystic nature to the historic match.
New Zealand and South Africa first faced off in Dunedin in 1921, with the All Blacks managing a 13-5 victory over the men from the Republic. Now, 100 years later, the typically annual clashes are anticipated as some of the best and most fierce on the calendar.
While the All Blacks’ will enter Saturday’s match as the form side, having gone undefeated throughout 2021, head coach Ian Foster has suggested that the form book can sometimes be tossed out the window in such high-stakes matches.
In 2011, New Zealand comfortably dealt to France during the pool stages of the World Cup, scoring a comfortable 37-17 win, before Les Bleus bounced back in the grand final and came within a whisker of upsetting the All Blacks at their Eden Park fortress, losing the match by a solitary point.
Eight years later, the All Blacks entered the 2019 World Cup as clear favourites and disposed of the Springboks during the pool stages before falling at the semi-finals to a somewhat less-fancied England team. England were then put to the sword by South Africa a week later in the final.
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England and NZ had last faced off at Twickenham in 2018, with the visitors scoring a narrow 16-15 win in controversial circumstances. The English players – as well as their coach, Eddie Jones – evidently harboured a small grudge against their Kiwi opposition and, come the World Cup, had prepared the perfect gameplan to get revenge against their opposition.
Emotionally, the English were perhaps also targeting the game, due to the recent history between the two sides – but they weren’t able to bring that same intensity to the grand final.
Foster, who was at that stage an assistant coach with the All Blacks, can appreciate the similarities between that semi-final clash and this weekend’s historic game between NZ and South Africa.
“I think there are some parallels,” Foster acknowledged after revealing his line-up for the game. “I think England had certainly targetted us for a long, long time and prepared for that and we’ve got no doubt that South Africa have had a plan for a long time for this game too.
“I think what we have learned is not to be surprised with the intensity of the opponent’s build-up and not to get lulled into a sense of their previous few weeks and the previous form [and] think that’s going to be an indicator of what’s going to happen on Saturday. That’s the biggest lesson out of England.”
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The Springboks have faced some harsh criticism in the media in recent times, partially due to their forward-oriented style of play and, more recently, due to their back to back losses to a Wallabies side that had been whitewashed 3-0 by the All Blacks over their past three matches.
Factor in that, as World Champions, they may feel the need to assert themselves as the apex predator in the food chain, given their last match with the All Blacks ended in defeat, and it’s impossible not see the Springboks entering the game with a fierce intensity that may well be a greater factor in the end result than either side’s current form.
For the All Blacks, the game represents a chance to prove that they deserve top spot on the World Rugby rankings, after jumping ahead of the Springboks following last weekend’s results. It’s also a huge match for coach Foster, given the lustre that adorns any match between New Zealand and South Africa, let alone the 100th.
“It’s the first time I’ve played South Africa so I think that’s pretty big,” said Foster. “I think when you’re coaching, every game’s the biggest game you’re ever going to have. That’s the beauty of coaching the All Blacks, the spotlight’s always on the team.
“We’ve had a lot of big games already but this is got a bit of a legacy moment about it, hasn’t it? A hundred tests and a hundred years and that’s certainly made it a bit special. And also the fact that we haven’t played South Africa for a couple of years and we’ve got a bunch of players that are really keen to measure themselves.”
“It’s a chance to actually measure ourselves against a team that has earned their reputation by delivering week-in, week-out, in some big games,” he later added. “And if you go back to our last few games in 18 and 19, there’ve been some really tight battles so we’re expecting that. But we’re not worried about that, we’re excited by that.”
The 100th clash between the All Blacks and Springboks kicks off at 5:05pm AEST on Saturday evening.
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