By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The sound of a tightly spinning rugby ball whistling through the air before it slapped into a massive hand resonated as the All Blacks completed their preparations on Friday for their Rugby Championship clash against South Africa.
From the hip, with a flick of the wrists, and back and forth – prop Ofa Tuungafasi and lock Patrick Tuipulotu demonstrated the ball handling skills of the team’s tight forwards that make them the envy of world rugby and have propelled the All Blacks to within sight of their third successive Rugby Championship title.
The world champions have recorded three bonus point wins so far, running in 18 tries, one of which scored by lock Brodie Retallick who dummied and stepped inside Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley in a 35-metre run in their 38-13 victory in the first match has become a YouTube highlight.
Kieran Read’s side have 15 competition points as a result of the victories and can sew up the title if they beat South Africa with a bonus point at Wellington Regional Stadium on Saturday (kickoff 0735 GMT) and move to 20 points on the table.
The Springboks, who have lost their last two games, have six points, while Australia and Argentina, who also play on Saturday in the Gold Coast, sit on four.
“There’s something pretty big at the end of the day if we get it right around the Rugby Championship so that is in our sights,” Read told reporters in brilliant sunshine at the conclusion of their final training run.
“It is a focus of ours to win the championship and we would love to do it in four games. But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We know the challenge the Springboks present but we have the opportunity to do it if we perform on Saturday.”
The Springboks, who began the competition promisingly with a 34-21 victory over the Pumas, were thrashed by Mario Ledesma’s side 32-19 the following week in Mendoza.
They then bumbled their way through a 23-18 loss to the Wallabies last week in Brisbane.
After 112 tests — 18 of them against South Africa and a veteran of the 25-24 victory in Cape Town last year after the All Blacks had beaten them 57-0 three weeks earlier — Read, however, knows how a wounded Springbok reacts.
Consequently he has warned his side to dismiss any complacency and to think how they would play if they had lost two games.
“They haven’t had some of the results go their way but every time they put that jersey on and run out they have so much pride in their national team,” Read added. “So you know they’ll be bouncing back.
“If we were in that situation we’d know how we’d react.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)