The Springboks will face off with the All Blacks at Twickenham Stadium this Friday evening. Kick off is at 20:30 (SA) and this test will be the last hit out for both sides ahead of their opening fixtures in the Rugby World Cup. The two sides have already met once this year, a game won by the Kiwis 35 - 20 thanks in parts to their opening 20 minute blitz.
The All Blacks will kick off their campaign in the tournaments opening fixture against France on September 8th. It doesn't get much bigger than that, whilst the Springboks will open their tournament on Sunday the 10th when they take on a rejuvenated Scotland. This is a warm up game in name only as both sides will be hunting a win in their efforts to enter the World Cup with momentum on their side.
The All Blacks go into the fixture on the back of a Rugby Championship and Bledisloe clean sweep, having not played a test since they undid the Aussies 23 - 20 in the final moments of a tense clash in New Zealand. They have taken a different approach to that of the Springboks, in focusing inwards and entering the 'warm-up' fray with only a single test in Europe outside of the World Cup.
The All Blacks will be looking to start strong once again and it will be a good test for where they are at before facing France. They have named a strong side, however notable omissions come in the rather large shapes of Shannon Frizell and Brodie Retallick. Other than those two omissions, this is pretty close to what would be considered a full strength team from the men in black and they will be up for what the Boks throw at them come Friday.
They have quietly gone about their business over the last year, rebuilding themselves nicely since their humbling defeat in Mbombela. The addition of Jason Ryan and Joe Schmidt to the coaching staff has certainly paid dividends and they are now even earmarked as favorites by a number of betting sides just 15 days out. A comprehensive win over the Boks could even see them leap frog Ireland into #1 again.
The Springboks on the other hand are coming into the game on the back of a 3 game win streak. They have beaten Los Pumas back to back as well as a commanding victory over a watered down Welsh side this past weekend. Having gained a little momentum, the men in Green & Gold will be doing everything in their power to ensure the All Blacks don't enjoy the possession and territory that they did during round 2 of the Rugby Championship. Those were arguably the worst 20 minutes of rugby in the RasNaber era.
The Springboks knowing they need a win here, have not thrown all caution to the wind. They are sticking to their selection policy and squad rotation, making minor tweaks to the team and ensuring they manage all the players workloads. The return of Eben Etzebeth at lock as well as Franco Mostert as his partner add to the power of the engine room, whilst they have RG and Jean waiting on the bench for some additional softening of the All Blacks pack later on. Faf De Klerk is also back in the 9 jersey and could ease some of the pressure on Manie should he be given the kicking duties.
The most exciting part of this Springbok side though, comes in the form of a new center pairing. Andre Esterhuizen earns a well deserved start at 12 and he will be partnered by the 20 year old Canan Moodie for the first time. It is a big test to debut this pairing but Andre and Canan are both in stellar form at the moment. Should they earn a pass mark here, it will go a long way to silencing the depth critics and belay fears around Lukhanyo Am's absence. It has all the makings of a lethal combination, now to put it to the test.
I would argue that the Springboks have more to lose here than the All Blacks. The Boks will want to get this monkey off of their backs ahead of a potential rematch in the quarter-finals and a loss may dent a bit of the confidence which has started to blossom in the side.
The All Blacks will obviously want the win here, but one loss in their last 10 tests will hardly damage their momentum. I also firmly believe every French fan in the world will be hoping the All Blacks win, because no one wants to face off with the Kiwi's on the back of a defeat.
I am predicting a 1-2 point game here, one in which the Springboks walk away with the spoils. Either way, the scheduling of this Test was a master stroke by SARU and the NZRU as they look to topple Ireland and France respectively. Expect it to be hard, expect it to be bloody, but most of all expect one hell of a game of Rugby.