Rugby World Cup: All Blacks vs Springboks - who will win?

4:11 pm on 20 September 2019

Opinion - I wonder who'll win?

Jack Goodhue scores a try in All Blacks v South Africa test in the Rugby Championship, Westpac Stadium.

Jack Goodhue scores a try for New Zealand against South Africa during the 2019 Rugby Championship. Photo: Photosport

Been a while since anyone's thought or written that.

All Blacks victories have been such certainties in recent times that the only question has been the margin.

Prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup we all had reason to suspect the team might fold under pressure.

Dominant performances during world cup cycles hadn't been repeated at the tournaments themselves, casting a pall upon New Zealand rugby.

Yes, we were still proud of our team. But only to a point. That increasingly familiar one when another world cup campaign inexplicably imploded.

Winning in 2011 changed everything. Losses in the lead-up to the 2015 tournament were then able to be treated as disappointments, rather than national disasters.

Coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, along with the bulk of the playing personnel, had proven themselves winners on the world stage, meaning 2015 could be approached with confidence and not dread.

It seems strange to suggest now that the certainty has dissipated, but there's no doubt Saturday's world cup opener against South Africa could go either way.

In a final - should New Zealand make it that far - you might feel different. Coping with the occasion counts for a bit at that time in a tournament and we know Hansen and company will do that.

Being the only back-to-back champions in world cup history is evidence that no-one has ever managed expectations better.

But this isn't the All Blacks of 2011 or 2015. Elements remain, but one critical thing appears missing.

Hansen has always been able to anticipate change, to pick the right people, to employ the right tactics.

This time around he looks a little reactionary and, if there is a team that looks further ahead of the field, then it's the Springboks.

Teams can rouse themselves in one-off instances against the All Blacks, South Africa among them.

Strike the Springboks on a day when they were able to channel their immense emotion in a controlled fashion and they could be a real handful. Too often, though, having cried their way through the national anthem, South Africa's players would have little left for the match.

Rassie Erasmus seems to have changed all that. Since being installed as Springboks coach last year, he's quickly fashioned a very impressive and consistent record against the All Blacks.

After beating New Zealand 36-34 in Wellington, they were pipped 32-30 in the return match in Pretoria.

This year, they've gone back to Westpac Stadium and earned themselves a 16-16 draw.

These aren't insignificant results. In fact, they're bordering on incredible.

All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw and Dan Carter hold the 2015 trophy aloft.

Can New Zealand lift the Webb Ellis Trophy for the third time in a row in 2019? Photo: Photosport

South Africa's Super Rugby sides have been rabbles in recent years while various social issues, including a weak exchange rate, have seen many players and coaches seek their rugby fortunes overseas.

Political and quota issues within South African rugby have also meant the team wasn't as strong playing and coaching-wise as it could've been.

Now you could mount a strong argument that the Springboks are the best all-round side in world rugby. Always powerful in the set-pieces, South Africa's forwards are more skilful and relentless than they have been.

The skill extends to the backs, where their method has moved on from the days of kicking for position and hoping to win penalties.

Under Erasmus, these Springboks can play you off the park, as this year's Rugby Championship results have shown.

Where New Zealand struggled to beat Argentina in Buenos Aires and were beaten by Australia in Perth, South Africa thrashed both of them.

That's caused quite a rethink within the All Blacks. Outside backs such as Sevu Reece and George Bridge have been rushed into the side and Ardie Savea picked at blindside flanker.

Players who looked certainties to be in New Zealand's best XV, such as Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Owen Franks and Liam Squire, have been relegated to the reserves, the stands or left at home.

Ben Smith during the 2019 Bledisloe Cup test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Wallabies in Perth.

For the first time in 37 Tests, Ben Smith will start on the bench for the All Blacks on Saturday. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

This isn't the first All Blacks team to do similar. After a lacklustre 1986 season, not helped by fall out from the ill-conceived Cavaliers' tour, many established stars found themselves surplus to requirements in 1987.

History shows New Zealand went on to win that inaugural world cup in dominant fashion.

Back then people hoped the All Blacks would be good. They knew there was talent within the side, but recognised there was just as much elsewhere.

Australia were arguably the team to beat in 1987, just as South Africa might be now.

New Zealand's greatest asset in 2019 is a winning pedigree, rather than players who are far and away better than everyone else's.

That creates uncertainty and interest and this tournament is all the better for New Zealand not being the prohibitive favourites.

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