New Zealand want to “right a wrong” when they confront arch-rivals South Africa Saturday in a Rugby Championship final-round ‘dead rubber’ in Pretoria.
The All Blacks suffered a stunning defeat by the Springboks in Wellington last month and scrum-half TJ Perenara says it is time to set the record straight.
“Once we celebrated clinching the title in Argentina last weekend our focus switched to South Africa and trying to right a wrong from a couple of weeks ago.
“Knowing that the Springboks beat us recently is disappointing and it hurts. We have a score to settle.
“A major motivating factor for us is improving match by match, failure to do so means we have failed.
“We want to grow day by day and week by week and we desperately want to beat the Springboks this weekend.”
New Zealand outscored South Africa by six tries to five in Wellington, but four missed conversions from Beauden Barrett proved costly.
The match also had an unusual end with the usually ultra-clinical All Blacks knocking on as they pounded the Springboks defensive line.
Losing was a wake-up call for New Zealand, and centre Ryan Crotty said it dispelled a media view that the great All Blacks-Springboks rivalry had lost relevance.
“South Africa are one of the best Test nations in the world and it is always a massive challenge playing against them,” he insisted, despite some big New Zealand wins recently.
“Sections of the media were suggesting that the rivalry had lost its edge because the All Blacks had achieved a few convincing victories.
“But the team that upset us in Wellington had outstanding players across the board and I am sure they will be in a good space mentally for the Pretoria Test.”
Perenara and Crotty start on the bench in a team showing four changes from that which beat Argentina 35-17 to clinch a sixth Championship title with a match to spare.
Skipper and number eight Kieran Read, tighthead prop Owen Franks and scrum-half Aaron Smith are recalled and Jack Goodhue comes in to play alongside fellow centre Sonny Bill Williams.
“We know a lot about Ryan and Jack, but we don’t know a lot about Sonny and Jack,” explained coach Steve Hansen.
“All year we have been trying to work out what is our best combination in that area for the future and this is an opportunity to do that.”
Winning in Wellington has not lulled South Africa into believing they are suddenly the masters of New Zealand, who have won four of five Tests at Loftus Versfeld stadium.
“The All Blacks usually hit back hard after a loss so we have to be mentally and physically ready for a massive contest,” warned coach ‘Rassie’ Erasmus.
“We will have to front up in defence and be clinical when creating chances because the All Blacks punish you for errors and missed opportunities.
“The Springboks versus the All Blacks at a packed Loftus — I think it is going to be a special occasion.”
Hooker Malcolm Marx hopes South African can spend more time attacking after massive defensive efforts in victories over New Zealand and Australia.
“To defend like we did against the All Blacks and the Wallabies in the past two matches has been awesome, but we need to attack more,” he stressed.
Erasmus changed three of the starters who repulsed waves of second-half Australian assaults to emerge 23-12 victors in Port Elizabeth last weekend.
Centre Damian de Allende, loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff and number eight Francois Louw come in for South Africa, who will finish second whatever the result.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Marisa Kennedy)