Home Sport Five key battles in All Blacks vs Springboks Test

Five key battles in All Blacks vs Springboks Test

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IOL Sport’s Leighton Koopman looks at five key match-ups that could go a long way in deciding this weekend’s Test between the Springboks and All Blacks.

Faf de Klerk of South Africa takes part in the South Africa captain's run ahead of their rugby test match against New Zealand at Mt Smart in Auckland
It is always a brilliant spectacle when the energetic Faf de Klerk (pictured centre) plays opposite the mercurial Aaron Smith. Picture: Michael Bradley/AFP

The Springboks and All Blacks selected two strong squads for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash in Auckland.

A couple of mouth-watering duels among the backs and forwards await when the match kicks off at 9:05 AM at the Mount Smart Stadium where the Boks will run out for the first time.

Sports correspondent Leighton Koopman takes a look at five key matchups for the clash.

Flyhalf – a pivotal position

The battle between the two 10s – Damian Willemse and Richie Mo’unga – will in all likelihood hold the key for the Boks and All Blacks.

Whichever flyhalf can steer his side to calm waters, whether it’s on attack, defence, or when kicking, will take heaps of pressure off the rest of the playmakers.

Willemse will run out as flyhalf for the first time in a long long time, and he will most definitely be the target of New Zealand’s loose forwards and locks.

Mo’unga on the other hand will start for the first time at 10 in the Black jersey after a good performance by Damian McKenzie last week. But the Crusaders string-puller will be ready for whatever the Boks put in his way.

It could come down to who of the two uses the possession and space better that their forwards will most likely generate. If Willemse is in form, the Bok backs could have a field day running with the ball in hand.

But if the visitors fail to shut Mo’unga down, it could be a long day in Auckland.

Will Faf be Aaron’s Moses?

It is always a brilliant spectacle when the energetic Faf de Klerk plays opposite the mercurial Aaron Smith.

Therefore, one can expect fireworks behind the scrum and rucks of both sides.

De Klerk obviously has unfinished business against New Zealand after he was knocked out after 34 seconds in last year’s Rugby Championship. He will be hoping to avoid literally clashing heads with any of his opponents when going in for that first hard tackle.

He will also have to keep a keen eye on Smith who is a master at doing the small things right to put his side on the front foot. Smith’s bullet-like pass from the scrum and rucks creates space out wide, and he is also an elusive runner around the rucks.

Of course, De Klerk will have to have his chirps on full blast as Smith is known for his noisy style of play to throw the opponents off.

The Bok scrumhalf will also feel his teammates Grant Williams, Cobus Reinach, Herschel Jantjies, and Jaden Hendrikse breathing down his neck for that number 9 jersey.

Monster eights

Expect tectonic plates to shift every time Jasper Wiese and Ardie Savea run into each other on Saturday.

Both eighth men are known for their no-nonsense robust play and a few tough collisions can be expected when they face each other directly. But they will do well to avoid each other and look for the smaller players to run into and over.

It usually takes about two players to pull down Wiese, but the same can be said for Savea.

Wiese is looking to make the Springbok number 8 jersey his own, and his performance on Saturday will be vital if he is to reach that goal ahead of the World Cup.

Veteran Duane Vermeulen turned the clock back with his performance against the Wallabies and Wiese will want to show that he is ready to grab the starting berth.

Savea’s ability to use his leg drive in tackles, and create turnover balls at the ruck is what makes him dangerous.

Locking it down as enforcers

Another colossal battle is expected between the two enforcers of the sides, Springbok stand-in captain Eben Etzebeth, and New Zealand’s returning Brodie Retallick.

Both veterans will be raring to get a good hit out with Etzebeth ready to play his first rugby match in months after recovering from a shoulder injury. Etzebeth has decided to run out after his father Harry passed away on Tuesday in South Africa, Etzebeth will be extra motivated as a result.

His athleticism, especially chasing kicks, and how he carries defenders back in tackles will be vital to the Bok cause. But more important, the eyes will be on him in how he leads the team in the absence of Siya Kolisi and with Vermeulen on the bench.

Retallick’s play in the loose and how he links with the backline, along with his prowess in the lineout and on defence is what makes him a big threat to South Africa.

Mastering the midfield

With Andre Esterhuizen breathing down his neck, Springbok incumbent in the 12-jersey Damian de Allende will be looking to stamp his authority in the midfield.

He will be up against the converted Jordie Barrett who is slowly but surely making the inside centre jersey his own for New Zealand.

Esterhuizen was brilliant in his return Test against Australia, but De Allende will be out to remind people of his own abilities – like crossing the gain line every time he carries the ball, his slick distribution skills, and tough-as-nails defence.

Springbok supporters will definitely weigh his performance up against that of Esterhuizen, but De Allende’s task will be considerably tougher keeping Barrett quiet.

In the absence of an out-and-out inside centre Barrett’s been fulfilling the role perfectly and will be a handful for the Bok defence. His kicking boot will also play a significant role come Saturday.

@Leighton_K

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