This is the the month of international rugby that couldn’t come soon enough because it means the world champion Springboks play the All Blacks, back to back, on neutral ground. It is going to be epic, writes Mark Keohane.
The entre, the Bledisloe Cup, has been served and devoured by New Zealand and now the real thing plays out when the All Blacks play the Springboks for the 100th and 101st time in Test history.
The Test matches, scheduled for 25th September and 2nd October, will be played in the state of Queensland and while there will be a lot of Kiwi support, make no mistake the Australian locals will be supporting any team that plays against the All Blacks.
The Springboks were brutal in beating the British & Irish Lions in one of the great series wins. Forget all the debate about the type of rugby played, what can’t be debated is the magnitude of the series win, given that the Springboks had played just one Test in 21 months against a Lions team whose players had enjoyed two Six Nations campaigns, a Nations Cup tournament and six warm-up matches before the opening Test in Cape Town.
The Boks triumphed 2-1 in the Test series and won the final Test despite the absence of No 7 flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, No 8 Duane Vermeulen and No 9 Faf de Klerk.
The Springboks and All Blacks haven’t played each other since the 2019 World Cup opener, won 23-13 by the All Blacks in possibly the game of the tournament. The Boks were brilliant for 30 minutes, the All Blacks struck magnificently with 14 points in three minutes, the Boks fought back to reduce the score to 17-13 with 10 to play and the All Blacks ultimately showed the greater composure to seal victory with two late Richie Mo’unga penalties.
There has been so much talk about the contrasting styles of the All Blacks and Springboks, but the two teams have always been at their best when being true to the DNA that has defined their rugby for the past 100 years.
When South Africa, in the modern era, has tried to play like the All Blacks, they’ve taken a beating and when the All Blacks have veered from trusting their natural game, they’ve suffered.
Finally, this Saturday, we get to compare apples with apples when the All Blacks play the Pumas and the Boks play the Wallabies. We’ll get greater insight into where the Boks and All Blacks are positioned in the build-up to their 100th meeting.
💯 A rivalry 100 years in the making. Today we mark the 100-year anniversary of our first Test against @Springboks played in Dunedin on August 13, 1921. We look forward to seeing our old friend for the 100th Test later this year. #NZLvRSA100 pic.twitter.com/s4TsIdM07Y
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) August 12, 2021
The Boks have played Argentina twice since the 2019 World Cup and they haven’t played Australia or New Zealand because of Covid restrictions.
Australia and New Zealand have played each other seven times in the past 12 months, with the All Blacks winning five, drawing one and losing one. Australia also won a 2-1 series against a depleted French squad missing 20 frontline players.
We know the qualities of the world champion Boks because of the Lions series win. What we don’t know is just how good the All Blacks will be when fronted with the physical challenge of the Pumas and the Boks.
The All Blacks performance against the Pumas will give greater understanding of the development of the All Blacks pack since a year ago when the New Zealanders lost for the first time in their history to Argentina.
The Wallabies will also answer questions to those critics who believe the Boks won’t manage the tempo and pace at which Australia and New Zealand have played the game.
I called their match-ups exhibition rugby: Australia scores one and New Zealand scores twice. Defence was secondary to attack, whereas the Boks series against the Lions was a throwback to those glory days of Test rugby being an examination of strength versus strength and not a style designed to win over a new audience to the game.
I thought the All Blacks were bloody good in what they did in Perth against the Wallabies. They scored a very impressive try from a lineout maul, in which precision and power were significant. They were lethal on the counter attack but they were also gifted so much against a team trying to mirror the All Blacks style of play. It was a case of the master against the pupil; the veteran against the novice and it ended badly for the Wallabies in three successive Tests. They took a beating each time.
This month’s Tests will be different because of the clash of styles.
It will make for riveting viewing for the rugby traditionalist, even if it makes for frustrating viewing for the occasional rugby viewer.
These Tests will get the temperatures rising as a World Cup play-off month does.