The rivalry between the Springboks and the All Blacks is legendary. They are the two most successful sides in Rugby World Cup history, having bagged the Web Ellis Cup on three occasions each but they are also arguably the fiercest rivalry in the sport. Whilst the stats may lean in the All Blacks favor, one can't deny that the Boks are the only team to challenge them on a consistent basis. Tonight in their 104th clash, hosted at Twickenham this will be on display for 80 000+ fans.
We all know that South Africans and New Zealanders get along like a house on fire. Ronnie & I made some Kiwi friends on a Contiki tour back in 2014 and we remain mates to this day. More recently we have made friends with Max over at the Black Jersey, another great guy from the land of the long white cloud. Over the years we've been treated to tales of Schalk Burger and Richie McCaw going hard at one another for 80 minutes, only to share a cold one after. Siya Kolisi and Ardie Savea are mates and you can find many many examples of how well we get on as nations. When the sides run out onto the pitch however, that relationship takes a back seat.
The game this evening is the last hit out for both sides before they take part in the Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks will open the tournament against France on 8 September, whilst the Boks play two days later, when they take on Scotland on 10 September. Two crucially important games in both sides efforts to top their respective pools and progress into the play-off stages. For this reason tonight may be called a friendly, but it is only in name. Any thoughts about the sides approaching it as such were firmly put aside when Eben Etzebeth faced the press.
“We are playing in the Springbok jersey at one of the top stadiums in the world in front of 80 000 people against a team with which we share one of the greatest rivalries, so this is not a warm-up match for us; it is a Test match,” stated Etzebeth on Tuesday. We’ll give everything this week and worry about the World Cup after Friday’s game. If things go well for us, it could also give us confidence going into the World Cup, so this is a massive game for us.”
I stand by my statement earlier in the week that the scheduling of this clash was a masterstroke by SARU and the NZRU. Yes there are many concerns over injury, justifiably so. However, injuries are inevitable, they happen in training, they happen in warm-ups and they happen during games. The pro's far outweigh the con's here as the two Southern Hemisphere heavy weights look to sharpen one another up. They have two weeks off after tonight to rest and make their final preparations and how could they know better where they stand, than facing such a grueling fixture.
What the teams dish up tonight will matter more than the result, but don't get me wrong, the result certainly matters. Probably more so to the Springboks than the All Blacks. They may potentially meet again in a quarter-final or even a final so RasNaber will be hoping their charges can secure the mental edge necessary when the play-off stages arrive.
Come 20:30 tonight, all friendships will be set aside for 80 minutes. Prepare for some epic rugby at Twickenham and then get ready to support our sides as they do battle in pool A and B. Hopefully, with a lot of hard work and a little luck, we will see the All Blacks face the Springboks in a World Cup Final later in October.