Boks relish All Blacks test
LONDON — South Africa and New Zealand will renew one of the greatest and most bitter rivalries in rugby in their World Cup semifinal at Twickenham on Saturday but off the field, the coaches and players remain firm friends.
For both nations, the game provides the ultimate challenge on a rugby pitch and in the adrenalin-pumping atmosphere of a high stakes showdown at such a prestigious venue, it promises to be another bruising battle.
However, behind the intensity and bonecrunching tackles is a mutual respect between the teams on the pitch that has in more recent years extended to solid friendships off it.
None more so than between the two coaches; New Zealand’s Steve Hansen and South Africa’s Heyneke Meyer.
“When you play teams you know really well and you’ve got a good relationship it brings a little bit more to it,” Hansen told reporters.
“It’s like playing your brother or your sister and you don’t want to lose, particularly if you’re the younger sibling.
“We really enjoy their company. They play hard on the track but they’re good men off it. Heyneke drives that. He’s the leader of their ship and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Meyer is equally fulsome in his praise of his All Blacks counterpart, who sent him a message of support after the Boks were stunned by Japan in their opening World Cup match.
“Steve is a quality man,” Meyer said. “We are all under pressure. Only one coach will win it and the rest will probably be fired or will be under pressure in their countries.
“We’ve tried to bring the ethos back in rugby. Although we kill each other on the field, as coaches we can support each other.”
New Zealand have a 59 percent win ratio against the Springboks over their past 90 meetings, impressive enough but comfortably their lowest against any nation.
They have beaten their other southern hemisphere rivals Australia 70 percent of the time and the average against all teams stands at an eye-popping 78 percent.
In World Cup matches, South Africa edge the head-to-head, including a famous 15-12 extra-time final victory in 1995.
Since then they have also beaten New Zealand to third place at the tournament in 1999 with a 22-18 success but were comfortably beaten 29-9 in the quarter-finals in Australia four years later.
More recently, the All Blacks have held sway, having won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the sides, including a 27-20 success at Ellis Park in July.
Meanwhile, there is nothing more special for a Springbok than to play the All Blacks, and to square off against the Old Enemy in a World Cup semi-final is just about as good as it gets for a South African, bar beating them in the final.
That is the view of Springbok openside flank Francois Louw, who says the Boks can’t wait to play an opponent they respect enormously but do not fear.
“We watched the All Blacks demolishing France in the quarterfinal on Saturday with some interest,” Louw said. “It was a great performance but they were always going to be favourites against a troubled French side. I must admit, I though France would put up more of a fight. I am surprised they lost so heavily, not to take anything away from the All Blacks.”
Louw said the Boks did not watch the game in trepidation but with growing excitement.
“The All Blacks are our traditional foe, we love playing against them,” he said. “It is the dream of every boy growing up in South Africa to score a try against the All Blacks to win the game, and we have all beaten the All Blacks in childhood games in our backyard.
“We always knew that we would have to beat the best to win the World Cup and it so happens that we are to cross paths with the world’s No1 ranked team in the semi-finals,” he said. “For us it is a derby game against our biggest rivals on the greatest stage in rugby – a sold-out Twickenham, with the stakes enormous. They desperately want to advance to the final, so do we.”
Louw said that while the players were celebrating the victory over Wales last Saturday evening, they were already quietly talking about the formidable challenge that lies ahead this weekend.
“There are going to be a lot of nerves from both sides,” Louw said. “Both sides know each other’s capabilities. They won’t write us off and will be as excited about the game as we are. There is a personal rivalry between the teams that adds something extra, and I know they feel the same way.”
Louw was responsible for one of the Boks’ two serious injuries that came out of the hard-fought game against Wales, having accidently stood on the hand of hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who sustained a serious laceration in the first half and was off the field for 15 minutes before returning, only to be permanently subbed by Adriaan Strauss early in the second half.
Team doctor Craig Roberts said that he had stitched up Du Plessis’ hand but the hooker was in too much pain, and had to come off.
“Bismarck’s hand is swollen and very sore but the good news is that a lot of healing could happen between now and Saturday,” Roberts said. “I think what will happen is that the coach will name a team with brackets around certain players, and then make a call late in the week.”
The other player likely to be bracketed when the team is announced is the young revelation Lood de Jager. He suffered an injured tendon in the foot and, likewise, will be given the whole week to recover. De Jager was injured early in the game and showed great courage to play through the injury, but yesterday he was in a lot of pain, the swelling having set in.
“Obviously we don’t want to lose either player,” said Louw. “They are both in excellent form. Bismarck has come a long way this season and, overall, his record speaks for itself.
Lood has made a huge step up in a vital position at No5 lock, where he is responsible for calling the line-outs. He does not even do that for the Cheetahs.” — IOL
Francois Louw swings the ball as SA battle old foes New Zealand in this file photo.