Saturday sees South Africa and New Zealand go head-to-head at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in round two of the Rugby Championship. The All Blacks eased past Argentina 39-18 last week in their tournament opener, while South Africa went down 24-20 to Australia in Sydney, conceding a try in the final play of the game. With this year’s Rugby Championship being a shortened format, Saturday’s clash is a must win game for South Africa.
South African coach Heyneke Meyer has named a youthful team for Saturday’s game with a number of first-team regulars out injured including veteran lock Victor Matfield and captain Jean de Villiers. After an impressive performance in the narrow defeat to Australia, Schalk Burger will captain the side and his physicality and leadership abilities will be strongly tested against the All Blacks. The main surprise in Meyer’s team selection, is the recall of flanker Heinrich Brussow, who has not featured for South Africa since the 2011 Rugby World Cup. After a strong Super Rugby season, Brussow did not feature in the original extended South Africa squad for the Rugby Championship but now, with back-row cover limited, Meyer has looked to put his faith in him. As usual, South Africa will look to take on the All Blacks up front and deny them quick ball and with a partisan Ellis Park crowd behind them they will be aiming for a big performance.
After victory over Argentina last week, All Black’s coach Steve Hansen has rung the changes for Saturday’s match, including two test debutants in Lima Sopoaga and James Broadhurst, and also eight positional changes, as he continues to experiment with the World Cup only two month away. Fly-half Sopoaga had an outstanding season for the Otago Highlanders as they won their first ever Super Rugby title. Hansen is keen to see if Sopoaga can perform on the international stage and there is no bigger stage than a test match against South Africa at Ellis Park. Broadhurst will partner Brodie Retallick in the second row and Saturday will offer a step-up both physically and mentally for the Wellington Hurricanes forward. Broadhurst is a strong runner in the loose, with a number of powerful runs in this year’s Super Rugby season and Hansen will be hoping for a strong and physical performance from the 27-year-old.
South Africa defeated New Zealand in this fixture last season, the All Blacks first defeat in two years and still their only defeat since 2012. With both sides naming youthful and experimental sides with one eye on September’s World Cup, another tight game could be on the cards. No matter the winner, you can be assured that this will be a physical contest with both sides looking to lay down a marker going into the World Cup.
New Zealand are 1.73 (8/11) favourites to win on Saturday with South Africa 2.38 (11/8). The draw is available at 23 (22/1).