The Springboks have just recorded two victories in this year’s southern hemisphere competition, at home over Argentina in the first round of matches and last weekend against Australia in Pretoria.
But the All Blacks did not meet the 2007 champions during their drive to the World Cup title last year and, even though they beat South Africa 21-11 three weeks ago in Dunedin, many critics suggested the Springboks had actually dominated the match and would have won were it not for errant goalkicking that saw them miss out on 20 potential points.
“Our big goal is to be better than we were 12 months ago and if we don’t get things right tomorrow, then we’ll undo a lot of the good work we’ve done. Even though we’ve won the Rugby Championship, there’s still this big challenge ahead of playing the Springboks at home. It will be a huge test of where we are as a team,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw told reporters in Johannesburg on Friday.
Eighthman Kieran Read was even more demanding in his analysis of what was riding on the game.
“It would really cement our number one status to win away from home against one of the top sides. If we don’t win, then a lot of what we’ve achieved goes out the window. To be number one, you can’t just win at home and it’s really important to win this weekend, there’s no bigger challenge than playing the Springboks at home,” Read said.
Soccer City, the venue for Saturday’s match, has a capacity of 94 700 and has hosted just one Test before, between the same two sides in 2010.
One of the great matches in the 91-year rivalry between the two rugby powerhouses was won by a last-minute try by New Zealand fullback Israel Dagg, spoiling Springbok captain John Smit’s 100th Test.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the daunting surroundings will only increase the determination of his side, who have won their last 15 matches, just three off the world record set by Lithuania in 2010.
“Sure, 90 000 people will make a lot of noise, but if you do things right on the field then you quieten them down and it becomes your place. The players get excited about playing at venues like that, it’s a magnificent stadium,” Hansen said.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said his team were desperate not to lose the gains of last weekend, when they hammered Australia 31-8, ending a record five-match losing streak against the Wallabies and their biggest win over them since the 53-8 hiding at Ellis Park in 2008.
“We played very well last weekend, but the pressure is still on us to perform. Australia had injury upon injury during that game, which definitely had an impact, so we’re not suddenly thinking we’re a great team. We’re happy with the improvement shown, but we’re very aware that we need to step up to another level this weekend,” De Villiers said.
“If we put on a bad show, then we’re back where we started. We need to keep on evolving and, in this country, that’s usually judged by the result. We gained some momentum last weekend, and we want to build some more to take with us on the end-of-year tour.”
Twenty-year-old Springbok flyhalf Johan Goosen has been identified as an obvious key figure and McCaw said the All Blacks would concentrate on disrupting the quality of his possession.
“Goosen certainly played well last week, he got good ball and used it well so guys like Bryan Habana could benefit. He certainly backs himself and we’ve seen his ability with the Cheetahs in SuperRugby, so we’ll have to keep an eye on him and limit the amount of good ball he gets,” McCaw said.
The experienced Ruan Pienaar will also be a key figure for the Springboks at scrumhalf, tasked with protecting Goosen as South Africa go in search of a ninth victory over New Zealand in 13 tests in the greater Johannesburg region.
“There’s a lot hanging on this Test, it’s important for us and a massive game for New Zealand, they’ve got a lot riding on it as they chase the world record for consecutive wins.
“Our forwards will need to be even better than in Dunedin because the All Blacks will come out firing. All 22 of us will have to make a massive step up and if we kick poorly, then they will punish us because they have great finishers like Dagg who can score from his own 22. We’re going to have to make lots of tackles, ensure that they are first-time tackles and not give them any momentum.
“And we need to take our opportunities, that’s what was lacking in New Zealand. You only get two or three opportunities against the All Blacks, we have to take them, be patient and play in the right areas,” Pienaar said.