Rugby’s big­gest ri­valry

ABs take on the Boks

Weekend Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick McKendry

A warm spring sun shone on the All Blacks yes­ter­day in Al­bany as they put their fin­ish­ing touches on their prepa­ra­tions for the chal­lenge against the old foe tonight and there is a sense of re­newal too in the make- up of a side which, given their re­cent form, could be ei­ther ripe for a dif­fi­cult evening or ready to cut loose.

With t wo new props in Kane Hames and Nepo Laulala, a rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced back three in Nehe Mil­ner- Skud­der, Damian McKen­zie and Rieko Ioane, the Spring­boks will feel they have their best chance in a long time to se­cure a rare away vic­tory over the All Blacks and yet there is a strong sense of calm­ness and con­fi­dence among Steve Hansen’s men.

At least, that was the im­pres­sion given by skip­per Kieran Read yes­ter­day and coach Hansen in his fi­nal press con­fer­ence of the week when he said his side weren’t the fin­ished prod­uct but they were head­ing in the right di­rec­tion and that the chal­lenges along the way would make them a far bet­ter side, with the 2019 World Cup the ul­ti­mate goal.

So far in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship the All Blacks have veered from the sub­lime to the not so great. The vic­to­ries over the Wal­la­bies were un­even to say the least and Ar­gentina pro­vided dif­fi­cult mo­ments in New Ply­mouth last weekend, but all three tests were won and the Bledis­loe Cup is locked away for an­other year.

Given the in­juries to props Joe Moody and Owen Franks and wing Is­rael Dagg, Hansen might set­tle for the con­sis­tently good rather than oc­ca­sional flashes of out­ra­geous bril­liance, but his men will be given free rein to play with width and am­bi­tion at QBE Sta­dium.

The bright sun yes­ter­day caused cap­tain Read to mis­judge a kick- off — a rare sight th­ese days given his in­creas­ing ex­per­tise from the re- starts, an abil­ity which helped get his side home against the Wal­la­bies in Dunedin.

The Boks, who have spo­ken dur­ing the week of Read’s lead­er­ship and abil­ity to fea­ture in the big mo­ments for his team, will be wary, too, of the cap­tain’s skill un­der the high ball and once off the train­ing pitch he spoke of his con­fi­dence the All Blacks were steadily build­ing.

“We’ve im­proved as a team; I think we’re cer­tainly on an up­ward trend,” Read said. “The amount of guys who have had ex- po­sure is great — it builds us nicely for the fu­ture and I think it’s im­por­tant we fin­ish our year at home well.” Tests against Ar­gentina in Buenos Aires and South Africa in Cape Town re­main for the All Blacks in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship be­fore they play Aus­tralia in the third Bledi sloe Cup test in Bris­bane in Oc­to­ber and travel to Europe to play France, Scot­land and Wales in Novem­ber. The key for the in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers, Read said, was be­ing aware that they don’t have to try too hard.

“For the new guys it’s about them nail­ing their lit­tle bit, whether that’s in the scrum or get­ting where they need to be on at­tack,” he said. “They don’t need to try too hard — that’s been the mes­sage this week for those guys. They’ve been great, they’ve come in re­ally ex­cited and with plenty of en­thu­si­asm.”

Asked about Hames, in his first test start, and Laulala, who has looked good against the Wal­la­bies and Pu­mas, Read said: “The two guys who are in there at the mo­ment scrum well to­gether. They work well at the Chiefs and look it’s not a prop thing, it’s the whole eight in the scrum so we’ve got to put the power through. We’ve got some good ex­pe­ri­ence with Wy­att to come off the bench so he’ll be a calm­ing in­flu­ence when he comes on.”

The Boks will now be with­out half­back Ross Cronje, who has a stom­ach bug, with Fran­cois Hougaard start­ing and Rudy Paige mov­ing to the re­serves bench.

“They are guys who have had an­other year of ex­pe­ri­ence,” Read said of a South African team who have ar­rived in New Zealand with plenty of con­fi­dence after an un­beaten start to the Rugby Cham­pi­onship. “Cer­tainly they look like they’re pretty hun­gry, they’re not shirk­ing their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, so I think it comes back to the old tra­di­tional foe for us which is ex­cit­ing. It’s great for us as play­ers and great for the fans. We want to be chal­lenged and we’ll cer­tainly get that to­mor­row.”

South Africa will tar­get Kieran Read.

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