PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa hold high hopes of a rare double over New Zealand as this year’s Rugby Championship comes to a close on Saturday, but they will be wary of being subjected to a ferocious backlash from the world champions.
New Zealand have already retained their Rugby Championship title, but blotted their copybook last month when the Springboks pulled off a surprise 36-34 win in Wellington.
South Africa will now hope to use their home advantage as a springboard for a second straight victory against the All Blacks, a feat last achieved in 2009 and rarely inflicted on the all-conquering New Zealanders.
“There’s an edge about this match-up,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said on Thursday.
“They beat us in the last game, and that’s why there’s an edge now that probably hasn’t been there for a while.”
Loftus Versfeld sold out weeks ago and the thin Highveld air is always a factor in South Africa’s favour at the ground.
Yet the hosts have lost their previous four tests against the Kiwis at the Pretoria venue, by an average margin of 20 points and with 19 tries conceded.
A sterling defensive performance was the catalyst for the Wellington win as well as last week’s 23-12 success for the Boks over Australia, but their attack needs polishing if they are to stay victorious.
“The All Blacks usually hit hard back after a loss so we have to be mentally and physically ready for a massive contest,” said the Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus.
“We will have to front up in defence and be clinical when we create chances because the All Blacks punish you for errors and missed opportunities.”
New Zealand have picked their strongest available side for the test with captain Kieran Read returning after sitting out last week’s trip to Argentina.
Prop Owen Franks and scrumhalf Aaron Smith are also restored to the lineup and Jack Goodhue picked ahead of Ryan Crotty, who could be a devastating option off the bench.
“This team hasn’t had a lot of adversity chucked in its face. Individually or as a group. So it’s something we have to learn from,” added Hansen.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Toby Davis)