WELLINGTON (AFP) – The All Blacks’ strength in depth faces a critical examination when they play South Africa on Saturday in a showdown between the world’s top two sides a year out from the World Cup.
“You’re going to get physicality and it’s going to be tough and you wouldn’t want it any other way,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said of the fourth-round Rugby Championship encounter in Wellington.
“It’s not about talking it up, neither side is like that. Both teams just get on with the job and the opportunity to have a one-two clash is always exciting.”
Both rugby heavyweights have expressed a desire for an open game, although injuries have forced the All Blacks to dig deep with their forward selections.
Their sixth-ranked lock Jeremy Thrush gets a start along with loose forward Steven Luatua, who was deemed not fit enough to be part of the side just three months ago.
While the All Blacks have been forced to shore up their pack, Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has enough confidence in his forwards to retain the same eight who started in last week’s 24-23 loss to Australia.
But in the backs it is a different story with Meyer taking the bold move of replacing proven match-winner Morne Steyn with 20-year-old Handre Pollard at fly-half.
It is a selection that Hansen acknowledged could strengthen the Springboks attack with Pollard’s direct approach putting pressure on the defensive abilities of All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden, who returns after recovering from a chest muscle injury.