WELLINGTON, July 23 (Reuters) - New Zealand’s Rugby Championship clash against South Africa on Saturday will have few implications for the World Cup beyond giving the winner a bit of confidence, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.
Both sides, who meet in the opening round of the World Cup in Japan, are expected to field strong lineups for the match at Wellington Regional Stadium, having rested players for the opening round of the southern hemisphere tournament.
The All Blacks rested a number of Canterbury Crusaders players from their 20-16 win away to Argentina, while Rassie Erasmus picked a veritable B-team for the Springboks’ 35-17 win over Australia.
The match may be decisive in the abridged Rugby Championship but Hansen saw little impact beyond that.
“I guess it will give whoever wins it a little confidence going in to the World Cup, but it won’t mean whoever wins this one will automatically win the one in the World Cup,” Hansen told local media in Wellington.
“Even then whoever wins that game, it doesn’t mean the other team is knocked out either.
“In the big scheme it gives everyone to have a wee look at each other and feel each other out, but I don’t think it’s going to affect the World Cup, no.”
South Africa pulled off a stunning 36-34 upset of the All Blacks in Wellington in last year’s Rugby Championship, the Springboks’ first away defeat of the New Zealanders since 2009.
It was Hansen’s first loss in the Rugby Championship since a 27-19 loss to Australia in 2015 and announced Erasmus’s previously unfancied side as a genuine World Cup force.
Hansen can call on several hundred caps of test experience with players including regular captain Kieran Read and lock Sam Whitelock fresh after missing the opener against Argentina.
However, the coach was pleased with the way a number of his fringe players performed against Argentina and he offered no clues as to the make-up of his side for Saturday.
“There’s a lot of water to go under the bridge before we name the next squad,” he said.
“A lot of things will be becoming a lot clearer, most of (the new players) have done themselves no harm at all.” (Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)