This seems a bit anti-climactic given that the All Blacks have already claimed the title, but remains one of the highlights of the international calendar. The Springboks gave New Zealand a real contest in Wellington and will be out for blood on their home turf. While the altitude of Johannesburg is typically a problem for most touring sides, it doesn’t hold the same mystique for the All Blacks, who have won their last three tests at Ellis Park.
Heyneke Meyer has made only a solitary change to the team that raced away from the Wallabies a week ago. Bismarck du Plessis swaps places with Adriaan Strauss, with the former given a chance to re-assert himself as the world’s best hooker ahead of the November test series. Duane Vermeulen has been given until match day to recover from rib damage suffered in Cape Town, with Schalk Burger ready to fill in and Warren Whiteley on standby to provide bench cover.
It’s very close to the side that last ran out against New Zealand, with injuries to Ruan Pienaar and Francois Louw the only other changes. Oupa Mohoje enjoyed his first start against Australia but will have to find another gear against a much more cohesive pack of forwards. Francois Hougaard’s ability to get Handré Pollard quick ball will be vital, and he will be matched up against the master of that skill in Aaron Smith.
The All Blacks will roll out a significantly different side to the team that edged the Boks in their last tilt, first and foremost in the front row with Joe Moody replacing injured Wyatt Crockett and Keven Mealamu staying put at hooker. Dane Coles has returned to the squad after the birth of his son last week, but will sit on the bench in place of new cap Nathan Harris. Charlie Faumuina joins Coles on the bench to cover tighthead, with Ben Franks covering loosehead this week.
Jeremy Thrush will again face the South Africans but this time it is in place of Brodie Retallick. The loss of the standout lock in the Championship is a blow, but Thrush is finally living up to his early promise and is a more like-for-like replacement for Retallick than Sam Whitelock. Jerome Kaino’s return last week proved a big boost to the side, and his physicality will be vital against the hefty Springbok pack.
A key question in the midfield will be posed by Malakai Fekitoa. The Highlanders star was given all kinds of space against the Pumas and made the best of it, but Jean de Villiers and Jan Serfontein will not be nearly so obliging. They will be equally wary of Beauden Barrett, who poses different problems to Aaron Cruden, but Fekitoa is the danger man and the one who will receive special attention.
On the bench Tawera Kerr-Barlow replaces T.J. Perenara for his first Championship action, and Ryan Crotty returns from a cracked cheekbone to replace Cory Jane. Expect him to see time at no12 after Fekitoa batters forward for the first hour or so. Steven Luatua comes back into the side as lock cover, and Liam Messam is fit again, taking the place of Sam Cane.
Regardless of it’s lack of implications on the Championship, this one could well be the best match of the tournament. The Boks will be desperate to get a result heading towards the World Cup. Likewise New Zealand will want to prove their depth with a handful of fringe players getting a crack in the run-on side. Look for South Africa to play a bit more territory in the rarified air, and accuracy of du Plessis and Mealamu at the lineout to be critical. On paper it’s a coin toss, and maybe the All Blacks are due to show a hint of vulnerability. South Africa by 3.
SOUTH AFRICA vs NEW ZEALAND
Saturday, October 4, 15:05 GMT, Johannesburg
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
Assistants: Pascal Gaüzère (FFR) & J.P. Doyle (RFU)
TMO: Graham Hughes (RFU)