FP – Refusing to fall for any Springboks gamesmanship, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is demanding absolute intensity from his top-ranked titleholders in Saturday’s blockbuster Rugby World Cup semi-final at Twickenham.
Bookmakers have all but written off South Africa following New Zealand’s record-setting 63-12 quarter-final rout of France after the Boks scraped through to the last four with a heartstopping 23-19 defeat of Wales.
But with the past three encounters between the southern hemisphere super powers decided by seven points or less, and South Africa prevailing in one of those, Hansen is taking nothing for granted in the first All Blacks-Springboks World Cup clash in 12 years.
“Though we’ve met many times over the years, we’ve only played three times at the Rugby World Cup and these Cup finals matches are totally different,” Hansen said.
“They have a live-or-die nature to them and both teams will be desperate to advance.”
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has been on the charm offensive all week, claiming his charges will need to produce the match of their lives to have any hope of toppling the defending champions.
Hansen isn’t buying any of it.
“They’re getting ready to rip our heads off and we need to be in that same state,” he said.
“If we get caught up in lapping up all the praise, we won’t be in the right mental state to play.
“As a group, we’re really looking forward to this challenge.
“It will require a massive amount of intensity and composure and accurate skill execution.”
The All Blacks have lost prop Wyatt Crocket to a groin injury, with Hansen promoting Joe Moody in the only change to his starting side that dismantled France.
Ten days ago Moody was playing in the NPC but Hansen has preferred the former Oceania junior wrestling champion to Ben Franks – who comes onto the bench – for his scrummaging prowess.
The other All Black under an injury doubt this week, winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, has been passed fit to play as both nations continue their quest for an unprecedented third World Cup.
While the All Blacks haven’t been challenged since their opening pool match against the Pumas, the Springboks will be battle-hardened after enduring a far more taxing run to the semi-finals.
Shock losers in their tournament opener against Japan, the Boks only squeezed past the Welsh with a 75th-minute try to skipper Fourie du Preez.
“We’ve been in the knockout phase from the get-go after our defeat to Japan,” said hooker Bismarck du Plessis.
“We’ve had that mindset all the way and we must take that mindset in with us again this week – we only have one chance.”
Meyer has named an unchanged starting line-up, with hooker du Plessis recovering sufficiently from a hand injury after being accidentally studded by teammate Francois Louw against Wales.
Winger Bryan Habana needs one five-pointer to break the all-time World Cup tryscoring record he currently shares with All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu.
The winners will play either Australia or Argentina for the Webb Ellis Cup on Saturday week, the two-semi-final match-ups ensuring a first-time final in some shape or form between two different southern hemisphere rivals.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Res: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, JP Pietersen, Jesse Kriel, Damien de Allende, Bryan Habana, Handre Pollard, Fourie du Preez (capt), Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Francois Louw, Lodewyk de Jager, Eben Etzebeth; Frans Malherbe, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Res: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Jannie du Plessis, Victor Matfield, Willem Alberts, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.