WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand are expecting a vintage challenge from a resurgent South Africa side in their top-of-the-table Rugby Championship encounter in Auckland next weekend.
All Blacks-Springboks clashes are always among the highlights of the test season but the rivalry lost some of its edge last year after the world champions won 41–13 at home and 57-15 in Durban.
South Africa have rebounded from their miserable 2016, however, and go into Saturday’s match at North Harbour stadium only three points behind the All Blacks after a 23-23 draw with Australia at the weekend.
“We all know the way the South Africans play,” All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick told local media on Monday.
”We’ve seen the last couple of weeks how physical they’ve been, especially up front. As always, they’re big boys and they like to come at you.
”Every test is special, but from what we’ve seen so far in the Rugby Championship, they’ve had two great wins over Argentina and they’ll be a little bit frustrated with the draw against Australia in Perth.
“They’ll be coming here with a bit of anger, and with the skill and physicality they’re playing with, I‘m sure it’s going to be a good spectacle.”
South Africa coach Allister Coetzee said at the weekend he was disappointed with the draw, if proud of the way his side battled back from 10 points down early in the second half to remain unbeaten in six tests this year.
He was also encouraged by the way Argentina managed to put pressure on the All Blacks in the first 60 minutes of their defeat last weekend in New Plymouth.
“I don’t see any weaknesses in the All Black side,” Coetzee told reporters in New Zealand on Monday.
”I think they are vulnerable but you still have to be at your best to exploit that.
“They have obviously stepped up when they have needed to. You cannot afford to lose concentration or focus. In the last 20 minutes they can easily score 20 points.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been experimenting with his side so it remains to be seen if the Springboks will have to contend with rookie flanker Vaea Fifita, who burned the Pumas defence to score a try in his first test start last Saturday.
“We’ve got some pretty quick loosies in this team, but that was just awesome to see him go out and take his opportunity like that,” said All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney,; editing by Sudipto Ganguly