The Springboks have billed Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against New Zealand as the game of their lives, adding another chapter to the tumultuous history between the two rugby superpowers.
At stake at Twickenham on Saturday is a place in the final against the winner of Sunday’s semi-final between Australia and Argentina
Senior Springboks Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger, who both helped South Africa win the 2007 World Cup, met in a Japanese club room nearly 12 months ago to begin plotting how to beat their ultimate rival.
The match holds extra significance for Burger as not only is it a World Cup knockout match but it will be the last time he will front up against his long-time back-row opponent Richie McCaw, with the New Zealand captain indicating he will retire from Test duty at the end of the tournament.
South Africa and New Zealand are two of rugby’s greatest rivals and Springbok skipper du Preez said it was evident when the World Cup draw was made that they would likely meet in the semi-finals.
Scrum-half du Preez, capped 75 times and flanker Burger, a veteran of 84 internationals, were playing for Suntory in Japan last November when they first sat down to plan how to beat the All Blacks
“It’s a massive, massive game if not the biggest game of my life and Schalk’s and we’ve been around quite a bit,” du Preez said at Twickenham on Friday after leading his side through their final training run.
“Myself and Schalk were in Japan together, from the end of November and we were talking about this game after training, so we’ve been looking forward to it for quite some time.”
Burger has been on the losing side most times he has played 34-year-old McCaw and he wants to bow out with bragging rights.
“Richie McCaw has won more Test matches than I’ve played almost, so it’s pretty hard to compete against guys who never seem to lose,” Burger said.
McCaw has in fact played 146 Tests and been on the winning side in 129 of them, 45-more than Burger’s entire Test history.
Burger, 32, has won five of 15 Tests against the All Blacks, while McCaw has won 19 of 25 Tests against South Africa.
“We’ve become good mates. We’ve played against each other since 2003 so there’s been a few contests and unfortunately I’ve been on the losing end most of the time,” Burger said
“Hopefully for me we can get a win over them and it will give me some bragging rights for it will be one of the last days we play against each other.
“We play a bit of a different style. Both of us have a massive work-rate so we find each other on the bottom of rucks or tackling or carrying the ball a hell of a lot.
“I always try to make a bit of a chat on the field but it’s pretty difficult to do with Richie. But afterwards we’ll share a beer and reminisce about days gone by.”
Springbok wing great Bryan Habana needs just one more try to break the overall World Cup record of 15 tries he now shares with New Zealand star Jonah Lomu.
“If it happens in the game, I don’t think we’ll be thinking of the record, we’ll be thinking we’ve scored against the All Blacks,” said Burger.
“I hope we can create something special for Bryan. He has got the ability to score that 20 percent try, the one that comes out of nowhere.”