After an incredible first weekend in the 2023 Rugby Championship, round two is shaping up to be an even better one as New Zealand play host to South Africa at the Go Media Stadium in Auckland on Saturday.
With both sides showing incredible dominance in their first match, this encounter is widely being considered the 'final' of the tournament, which has been shortened to accommodate the 2023 Rugby World Cup that will take place in France later this year.
The All Blacks put on an excellent showing in Mendoza last week as they outplayed the Pumas in all aspects, scoring seven tries to record a 41-12 win on their first visit to Argentina since 2019.
Dane Coles, Jordie Barrett, Ardie Savea, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith and debutant Emoni Narawa all got on the scoresheet for the All Blacks, while Damian McKenzie managed to stick away three of his seven conversion attempts.
When we look at the stats, though, Argentina were better at carries across the gain line, had fewer missed tackles, and dominated the territorial battle, but the All Blacks were more clinical in their line breaks, and their scrum was formidable.
With that win, New Zealand extended their unbeaten record against the Pumas to 15 matches, and after being awarded 0.71 points for the victory, the All Blacks are just over three-quarters of a point behind France in the world rankings.
Ian Foster's men are now unbeaten in their last eight matches in all competitions, winning seven and drawing one, and did beat the South Africans in the most recent encounter at Ellis Park last year after losing at the Mbombela Stadium a week earlier.
Having taken almost their full squad to South America last week and returning home in midweek, it will be interesting to see if fatigue plays a role in the latter stages of the match, as the All Blacks did look somewhat leggy in the closing minutes against Argentina which resulted in them conceding in the final minute of the match.
Foster's men are the favourites for this contest and have an excellent record against South Africa in Auckland, recording seven wins and a draw in their last eight, though this will be the first meeting between these sides at Go Media Stadium with all the previous matches coming across the city at Eden Park.
Meanwhile, the Springboks also delivered a performance of note in their opening match of the competition, scoring a 43-12 win over the Wallabies to keep their incredible record at Loftus Versfeld intact.
A hat-trick from Kurt-Lee Arendse was the undisputed highlight of the match for the Springboks, and the majestic left-winger has now taken his tally in the green and gold to 10 tries in just his first eight appearances.
While the Wallabies were evidently nowhere near what we expect of them, it was the manner in which they were outplayed that was most impressive from a South African perspective as they managed an incredible 87 carries across the gain line in comparison to Australia's 34, while dominating 63% of possession and almost doubling the number of passes their opponents managed.
The big talking point in the lead-up to this match has been Jacques Nienaber's tactic to send most of his best players to New Zealand a week early in preparation for this clash of the heavyweights, yet the performance they delivered last week with a lesser-known side illustrates the depth that the South Africans possess at this moment.
South Africa matched New Zealand's record in this tournament last year with four wins and two losses in six matches, but they came up agonisingly short of clinching their fourth Rugby Championship title, with the All Blacks scoring three bonus points compared to their two.
More than anything else, this match is about gaining a psychological advantage leading up to the World Cup, and with these sides being drawn in Pool A and B, there is a chance that if they top their groups, the next time we see them collide could be on October 28 at Stade de France in the final of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
New Zealand Rugby Championship form:
New Zealand form (all competitions):
South Africa Rugby Championship form:
South Africa form (all competitions):
On Thursday, Foster and his selectors finalised the team that will face South Africa in Auckland, and notably, five players who have not played for the national team in 2023 will be taking to the field in this match.
Brodie Retallick, Mark Telea, Samisoni Taukei'aho and Will Jordan will make their return to the All Blacks side, and in addition, uncapped prop Tamaiti Williams has also been included in the matchday 23.
Barrett will be making his 50th Test appearance here; Scott Barrett is set to reach his 200th first-class game, while if Williams gets the opportunity to play, he will become the 1,209th All Black player.
South Africa, meanwhile, wasted no time in putting speculation to bed by announcing the 15 that will start on Saturday, barring any late injuries, well ahead of their opponents.
Siya Kolisi travelled with the squad to New Zealand, but he is still working his way back to full fitness and will not be a part of the team, which means that the captaincy responsibilities will be left with Eben Etzebeth.
The front row for the Springboks remains unchanged, with Lukhanyo Am and Willie Le Roux being the only other players that have been retained in the starting lineup from the side that ran out at Loftus Versfeld last week.
New Zealand starting lineup: 15. Beauden Barrett, 14. Will Jordan, 13. Rieko Ioane, 12. Jordie Barrett, 11. Mark Telea, 10. Richie Mo'unga, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Ardie Savea, 7. Sam Cane (captain), 6. Shannon Frizell, 5. Scott Barrett, 4. Brodie Retallick, 3. Tyrel Lomax, 2. Codie Taylor, 1. Ethan de Groot
South Africa starting lineup: 15. Willie le Roux, 14. Cheslin Kolbe, 13. Lukhanyo Am, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Makazole Mapimpi, 10. Damian Willemse, 9. Faf de Klerk, 8. Jasper Wiese, 7. Franco Mostert, 6. Kwagga Smith, 5. Lood de Jager, 4. Eben Etzebeth (capt), 3 Frans Malherbe, 2. Bongi Mbonambi, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Head To Head
There have been 103 previous meetings between these sides in all competitions.
The All Blacks currently lead the head-to-head standings with 61 wins, while South Africa have won 38 and four matches have ended in a draw.
We say: New Zealand 24-27 South Africa
The fact that this match had been sold out over a month ahead of time sums up how big of an encounter this is. The All Blacks have the home-field advantage and are showing up as the marginal favourites according to most bookmakers.
However, the Springboks team have had better preparation and will be fresher coming into the match, which could be a telling factor late in the day. The kicking game could be the decider in this one, and we fancy the South Africans to edge it at the death.
No Data Analysis info