Home Sport Bokke smell blood ahead of Ellis Park clash

Bokke smell blood ahead of Ellis Park clash

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The New Zealanders indeed appear to be on the ropes and the Boks circling for the knockout punch after thrashing their Old Foe to within an inch of their lives last week in the Lowveld.

All Blacks players during a training session at St Davids
All Blacks players during a training session at St Davids, Johannesburg, on 11 August 2022. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu, BackpagePix

Johannesburg – Two of the great heavyweights of rugby, the Springboks and the All Blacks, step into the Ellis Park colosseum on Saturday for the 14th time since 1928, and never before has the home side smelled blood as quite as pungently as they do on this occasion.

The New Zealanders indeed appear to be on the ropes and the Boks circling for the knockout punch after thrashing their Old Foe to within an inch of their lives last week in the Lowveld.

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For so long in the professional era, the glove has been on the other fist and even in South Africa the Boks have inevitably been the underdogs, but the current plight of the All Blacks underlines the fact that even the best cannot reign forever.

The three-time World Cup winners have lost five of their last six games and the rugby world is contemplating how the mighty have fallen … all the way down the World Rugby ladder from No.1 to No.5, their lowest ever ranking.

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They go into this match with whispers abounding that coach Ian Foster will join his already sacked assistants John Plumtree and Brad Mooar next week, even if his team somehow scrambles a win, and indeed the body language of Foster at his team announcement  press conference in Sandton on Thursday reflected a man awaiting the gallows.

A “Dead Man Walking” is a fitting description while the cruel media has dubbed his team “Foster’s Imposters.”

Yet those who us have suffered so much pain watching the All Blacks routinely slay the Boks over the years look at the athletes in their teams, and dread the possibility that they could catch fire and produce a miracle.

They have the players, especially with Richie Mo’unga back at flyhalf, and a look back at the last decade of matches between these two teams on the highveld shows that the All Blacks have an appetite for Ellis Park, and they have no fear of the altitude.

In fact, they regard it as their ally. So often they have won games at the death when it has been the Boks gasping for oxygen and that is because their high octane game tires out the opposition and allows their attacking skills to come to the fore.

A case in point is the last time the All Blacks played here before the Mbombela game. That was at Loftus Versfeld in 2018 when the Boks seemingly had the game won only for the Kiwis to come storming back in the last 10 minutes to snatch the spoils, with the Boks heaving for air.

Of course, the obvious way to prevent this is to cut the All Blacks racehorse corralled and not allow them to get into that gallop that eats up the turf on the fast, dry tracks of the Highveld.

And looking back to last week’s match in Nelspruit, there is a reason why the winning margin was a whopping 16-points, the Bok’s highest winning margin over the All Blacks in the professional era.

And that is because the Springbok pack is significantly superior to their opponents. In fact, this is the weakest All Blacks tight five almost ever, and the Boks will surely turn the screws once more up front and sentence the Kiwi backline to relative unemployment.

In short, a highly focused, supremely motivated Springbok team — and surely this is a given when you are playing New Zealand — should have too much firepower for vulnerable opponents, and if the Boks don’t deliver the knockout blow, it will be a major setback as they tick psychological boxes ahead of next year’s World Cup.

Springboks team: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.

Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jasper Wiese, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Kwagga Smith 22, Herschel Jantjies, 23 Willie le Roux.

All Blacks team: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 David Havili, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (capt), 6 Shannon Frizzell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitlock, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Ethan de Groot.

Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Quinn Tupaea.

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