AUCKLAND (Reuters) - All Blacks-Springboks clashes have special place in the history of test rugby but talk of traditions, past records and ground hoodoos means little when the players cross the whitewash, according to South Africa skipper Eben Etzebeth.
A hardened lock very much in the mould of the generations of players who have occupied the Springboks second row, Etzebeth sees Saturday’s Rugby Championship test at North Harbour Stadium as just 46 blokes going hammer and tongs on a patch of grass.
“Once you jog onto the field, any records, they disappear out of your head,” the 25-year-old said on Friday about the fact South Africa had not won in New Zealand since 2009.
“You don’t want to break records, you just want to win the test match. They want to win it, we want to win it. Records don’t count for very much.”
Until the British and Irish Lions ended New Zealand’s 47-match unbeaten streak with a 24-21 victory in the second test in July, the last time the All Blacks had lost at home was when John Smit’s Springboks beat them 32-29 in 2009.
That victory was something of a statistical anomaly for the Springboks, who are historically the All Blacks’ toughest opponents but have a woeful record in New Zealand.
Of the 42 tests played in New Zealand between the two teams since 1921, South Africa have won just nine, and only three of those - two in 2009 - have come in the 25 games since sporting ties resumed after apartheid ended in 1992.
The South Africans also had a woeful 2016, winning just four of their 12 tests and were hammered 41-13 and 57-15 by the All Blacks in their two Rugby Championship encounters last year.
The Springboks have, however, enjoyed a resurgence this year under Allister Coetzee and are unbeaten in six games with five wins and last week’s 23-23 draw with the Wallabies.
That resurgence has prompted some in New Zealand to question why the game was not played at Eden Park given the All Blacks are unbeaten there since 1994 and there is a large expatriate South African community in Albany.
Coetzee, though, felt it would make no difference to his side where they played the All Blacks.
“No influence, nothing at all,” Coetzee said.
“Two sets of poles, chalk on the field, a referee, no difference ... it just comes down to Saturday and the 80 minutes.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney