Unique bond to be tested in World Cup opener - Kayes

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It had been a pretty poor training session.


Balls were dropped, passes were going all over the place and there was a general lethargy under the warm winter sun at Johannesburg’s Wits University.


The All Blacks were tired.


It was Thursday and they were still getting over last Saturday’s Test against Argentina and the flight from Buenos Aires to South Africa.


So Richie McCaw gathered his troops into a huddle and let rip.


Yes, he said, it’s hot, and I know you are tired and sore.  You’re going to feel like that on Saturday too against a Springbok team that’s always champing at the bit to beat the All Blacks.


Get over it, McCaw said in rather more ribald language.  It’s all mental, just deal with it.


It was a blistering barrage but it had an effect. For another 20 minutes the All Blacks trained error free and at Soweto’s National Stadium two days later rallied from being 12-16 down at halftime to win 32-16.


That’s 20 unanswered points in the second spell. Not bad for a team playing at altitude and knackered from a long flight.


That win is one of 16 the All Blacks have enjoyed against South Africa since losing three on the trot to them in 2009.


They’ve also lost three and had this year’s draw but in that run of 20 Tests the All Blacks have won four, five and six consecutive Tests against South Africa while never losing two on the bounce.


It is a formidable record against their traditionally toughest foe but as McCaw is always quick to note, the scoreline seldom reflects the brutality of the match.

There is no doubt Saturday’s 99th meeting and fifth at a World Cup will be as bruising and confrontational as ever.


South Africa have taken to another level the rush defence used to good effect against the All Blacks by the British and Irish Lions in 2017.


And they’ve tweaked it with their wings coming up fast and hitting in on whoever is set to pass out to the All Blacks final man.


It’s risky, but it’s worked.  It’s something the All Blacks will try to counter on Saturday by kicking in behind the Springboks if they can’t punch their way through. 


Running into African brick walls is nothing new for the All Blacks.


There were three Tests in 2016-2017 where they thrashed South Africa, wracking up 155 points and conceding just 28 for an average score of 52-9.


But historically the average is 21-16 to the All Blacks and in the past four tests, with the scores combined, the All Blacks are just one point ahead.


Over the years there have been some terrific tests and tours of historical importance.


The 1981 tour was a defining time in New Zealand as the protests against Apartheid and the tour happening became pitched battles with police in surburban streets.


Then there was the plane over Eden Park in the third Test with the pilot bombing the players with bags of flour.


It seems incredible, given the recent results, that it wasn’t until 1996 that the All Blacks won a series in South Africa with skipper Sean Fitzpatrick thumping the ground in exhausted delight an enduring memory.


Emotions can bubble to the surface when this rivalry flares up.


In 2003, after the New Zealand thrashed South Africa in Pretoria, an All Blacks old captain wept as he told me how long he had yearned to see South Africa hammered like that.


Earlier, as the small Kiwi media group who were at Loftus Versfeld got ready to walk to our car, we were warned not to speak as we walked through the car park.


“Just in case someone who is upset at the result hears your accents and reacts,” the All Blacks’ security adviser told us.


Sometimes though, regardless of the result, the occasion is triumphant.

Though he was so ill he lasted only the first half of the 1995 World Cup final, Jeff Wilson still remembers it as a special day and a “signature moment for South African rugby”.


This was, of course, the World Cup final where President Nelson Mandela wore Springbok skipper Francois Pieenar’s jersey and presented him with the Webb Ellis Cup after their 15-12 overtime win.


“To be a part of that was special,” Wilson says.  “I would have liked to have been on the other side of it (winning) and I would have liked to contribute a bit more.


“I had to go off at halftime because I was spent, I had nothing left in the tank,” Wilson says in reference to the illness that had swept through the All Blacks on the eve of the final.


“There are a lot of disappointments and that’s obviously one of the big ones but in terms of the bigger picture and what it did for South African rugby, it was a privilege to be a part of that.”


These Tests are special.  There is no disputing that.


There is a unique bond that runs through the two sides and their countries.


It will be tested again on Saturday and, many believe, in the final at this World Cup.


That would be the 100th test between these two old foes and if it happens, it will be an apt final if ever there is one.





Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport. He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.


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