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RUGBYPASS+ Expect fire and fury from under-pressure Springboks

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Expect fire and fury from under-pressure Springboks

It’s going to be interesting seeing the All Blacks and Springboks finally going to battle again this weekend.

We haven’t seen them play each other since the World Cup and I know from my time with the All Blacks, you never forget the history of the games that have come before you.

You use them as motivation, whether you won or lost. It’s not about righting wrongs, or anything like that, but those memories can be powerful motivators.

The All Blacks recorded a confident 23-13 win over the Springboks at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images)

The fact that the All Blacks won the last test but the Springboks went on to win the World Cup makes things even more interesting. I don’t think the players will care too much about what happened after their last game, but I know that will be a big thing for fans.

The All Blacks are pretty much always used as the benchmark for ‘best in the world’, even if they’re not ranked number one at the time, or aren’t the world champions.

Even though the Springboks lost their last two games, I think a lot of people will see this match as an opportunity to really measure who’s the apex predator in world rugby right now.

There was always a slightly different atmosphere in camp ahead of a game with South Africa.

They don’t hide the way that they play. They’ve got a careless regard for their body and throw themselves into contact with reckless abandon.

Obviously we respected all our opponents and always intensely prepared for whatever was ahead of us, but we gained so much energy and motivation ahead of going up against the Springboks because of the history and rivalry between the two sides.

You’d talk about that rivalry before the first match of the season. The older heads in the squad didn’t necessarily need reminding – they knew what we’d be facing – but they’d do a really good job of bringing the new boys up to speed.

Some of that involved talking about the way South Africa play the game but, to be fair, most guys could kind of tell what to expect even from just watching the Springboks when they were younger.

If you had been in the All Blacks for five or six years, or you were just new to the squad, you knew that you were preparing for a massively physical encounter. They don’t hide the way that they play. They’ve got a careless regard for their body and throw themselves into contact with reckless abandon.

Not much has changed in that respect.

Tensions tend to reach boiling point in the physical battles of attrition between the Springboks and All Blacks. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

This year, they appear to be sticking to what worked for them in the World Cup. Start with some smash and bash, throw in a few kicks, get down in the opposition’s 22, get the driving mauls going and suffocate the life out of your opponents.

That obviously worked against the British and Irish Lions but it came unstuck against the Wallabies, who played to their own strengths and were able to negate some of the tactics of the Boks – although their high-ball game obviously didn’t function as well as they would have hoped.

We saw signs that the Springboks wanted to throw the ball around a bit, and I’d love to see more of it – even if they might not quite be ready for it yet.

One of the best games I ever played in was against the Boks at Ellis Park in 2013. It was the final game of the Rugby Championship and they needed to score four tries if they were to have any hope of winning the competition.

The weirdest thing is that in South Africa, it’s always dry, it’s always sunny, there’s basically always perfect conditions for running rugby. They’ve got the best environment to play that open game-style.

We knew they were going to be a little more attacking oriented than usual, but they completely flipped the switch on us. We knew what they needed to do to win the Championship, so we knew they were going to come at us – but we probably didn’t expect it to be quite so extreme. It made for a hell of a spectacle.

From the get-go, they started throwing the ball wide – which they’d usually never do. They’d set up a big latch and smash the ball up through their forwards then throw it out the back. We were like, ‘What the heck is going on here?’

It was a pretty close, high-scoring game, and it showed that if the Springboks did put their mind to it, they could actually play expansive rugby.

The weirdest thing is that in South Africa, it’s always dry, it’s always sunny, there’s basically always perfect conditions for running rugby. They’ve got the best environment to play that open game-style, but I think it must just go back to their DNA. They clearly have the players to do it – look at guys like Cheslin Kolbe – but because of their gameplan or the style their coach wants them to play, they stick to the same tight stuff.

They’re actually in a similar position now to 2013 where they could win the Championship if they cut loose, but they’d have to win with some pretty big margins, which probably isn’t realistic.

Liam Messam score two of the All Blacks’ five tries in their 38-27 win over the Springboks at Ellis Park in 2013. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

More likely, they’ll double down on what’s worked for them in the past, even if it hasn’t worked for them so well in their last two matches.

The other strange thing about this weekend’s game – the 100th test between the two sides – is that it’s being played on neutral soil.

Townsville is a pretty cool stadium but it’s not going to be like driving into Eden Park and seeing everything blacked out, or driving into Ellis Park and having fans scream and spit at your bus and hurling abuse left, right and centre. I know there’s a big All Blacks fan-base in Australia but it’s certainly going to be different.

You definitely get up when you play at home and hear your fans cheer you on and support you, but that also fires the opposition up as well. It definitely fired us up when we were playing in South Africa and the fans were hungry for blood. It takes your intensity and focus to a whole new level when you see that and you really thrive and enjoy that environment. It’ll work the same for South Africa when they come to New Zealand, facing the haka and the crowd, you sort of feel like it’s you against the world.

After their two defeats to the Wallabies, I think there’s going to be a bit of a reaction from the Springboks. You don’t want to be going into the trip north after dropping four on the bounce and they’ll be absolutely gunning for a victory.

Obviously, neither team will be at home so it will be interesting to see how both sides react – maybe it takes some of the pressure off?

For most of these guys, it’ll be their first game between New Zealand and South African teams in a long while due to Covid and it’ll be a little taste for what the future will look like with South Africa no longer a part of Super Rugby. Will the Springboks struggle with the All Blacks’ speed, or will the All Blacks struggle with the Springboks’ physicality? Whoever adjusts quickest will have a big advantage.

After their two defeats to the Wallabies, I think there’s going to be a bit of a reaction from the Springboks. You don’t want to be going into the trip north after dropping four on the bounce and they’ll be absolutely gunning for a victory.

There’s a huge amount of respect between the two nations and we’re always great mates off the field, but I have no doubt that it’s going to be an intense affair on Saturday night. There’s a lot of pressure on both sides and hopefully they can channel that into another edge-of-your seat match between the two top-ranked teams in the world.

More columns from Liam Messam

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