South African coach Allister Coetzee named a pacy young side to face the All Blacks on Auckland’s North Shore on Saturday. So where will the key battles be fought?
1. Rieko Ioane vs Raymond Rhule
Both South African wings, Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule must be near the fastest in world rugby. However, Rhule will be marking another jet-shoed winger in Rieko Ioane who combines pace, power and skills.
The All Blacks will definitely target Rhule’s wing as he is somewhat of a defensive liability, finishing as the worst tackler out of all players in the Super Rugby season, missing an astounding 43 for the Cheetahs with a success rate of just 57%.
Things didn’t improve last week against the Wallabies with Rhule falling off five tackles. Rhule is a powerful attacking threat and will hope for a positive start to install some confidence to cope with the huge menace from Ioane, who has scored six tries in as many Tests, and three in the last two games.
Advantage: All Blacks
2. Brodie Retallick vs Eben Etzebeth
If you don’t get excited about these two giant world class locks meeting, check your pulse.
Etzebeth has brought passion and fire to his unbeaten run in the Springbok captaincy and his own play has lifted back to the highest level after a few seasons of moderate performances. Retallick was outstanding against the Lions in the first Test, and against the Wallabies in the first Bledisloe game.
These two have a predictably fractious history, and Retallick has had a slight edge over his rival until now. Expect Etzebeth to play the antagonist role, while Retallick’s responses may come in offloads and turnovers.
Advantage: too close to call
3. Sonny Bill Williams vs Jan Serfontein
Serfontein has been the star of the South African backline this season, making line breaks and beating defenders consistently, and has formed a dangerous partnership with his Bulls teammate Jesse Kriel.
Against the Wallabies, Serfontein had the highest metres gained and line breaks in the team. Sonny Bill Williams lifted his game against the Pumas after a horror show in the second Test against Australia. He reunites with his experienced partner Ryan Crotty and the two make up a rock solid defensive combination in midfield.
SBW will also be looking to make more impact on attack as his audacious offloads have been rarely sighted this season.
4. Dane Coles vs Malcolm Marx
No rest for Coles after facing the mighty Puma captain Agustin Creevy last week, he now comes up against the rampaging springbok hooker Marx. 23-year-old Marx has had a stellar 2017 with the Lions in Super Rugby and has continued this form for the Springboks.
A powerful scrummager and runner and he has also been very consistent with his lineout throwing. All Black Coles is still regaining fitness and form after an injury-plagued season.
His concussion symptoms seem to have disappeared and he will need a clear head to deal with the threat of Marx and the fact that he will be leading a very inexperienced All Black front-row, with Kane Hames and Nepo Laulala.
5. Beauden Barrett vs Elton Jantjies
The two pivots will undoubtedly have a huge influence on the style and direction of their teams play on Saturday. Whereas Barrett thrives under pressure, Jantjies is more vulnerable to nerves.
However, Barrett has been facing the first sustained criticism of his performances for the All Blacks in the last month and it will be interesting to see if this affects his confidence and approach.
Barrett hasn’t found a way to thwart the rush defence teams are using against him and he will no doubt appreciate the extra pace on the pass when he is reunited with half-back Aaron Smith.
Jantjies stood up well to the pressure against the Wallabies, kicking at 82% and scoring 13 points in the 23-23 draw. His success on Saturday will depend on the protection he gets from his forwards to slow down or stop the swarming All Black defence.
Advantage: All Blacks
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena