With the Springboks taking on the All Blacks in the first Rugby Championship Test on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 5:05pm) we look at three key match-ups to keep an eye on during the match.
Damian Willemse v Jordie Barrett
Damian Willemse seems primed and ready for the big time and will get his best opportunity to impress against the All Blacks on Saturday.
After spending most of his time as a bench utility back, since making his Bok debut in 2018, the team management finally decided to back him as the starting fullback, ahead of Willie le Roux, in two Tests games against Wales.
Willemse duly rewarded them by putting in three sparkling performances in the series, off the bench in the second Test, and was arguably the player of the series, while he also showed his utility value by filling in, in multiple positions.
He now goes up against the towering Jordie Barrett and will need to compete in the air against one of the best in the game. Barrett is extremely similar to Willemse in his utility worth, able to play across the backline, while he has the added pressure of being the team’s first choice kicker.
He is also plays a big part in their attacking plans, like Willemse, joining the line at various stages and switching around with different players at different times.
Jasper Wiese v Ardie Savea
Jasper Wiese continues to flatter to deceive. The Bok coach’s main pick as heir-apparent to Duane Vermeulen continued to blow hot and cold, as he did last year, during the Welsh incoming series. After a strong showing in the first Test he then gassed himself out in the third, being subbed before halftime, which then saw Kwagga Smith put in a sparkling performance off the bench.
Wiese certainly has the right attributes and traits to succeed Vermeulen, and has shown growth over the past year, however a few areas of his game remain suspect, including under the high ball which is a massive part of the Boks game.
Regardless, Wiese now gets a great chance to prove his worth in his first start against the All Blacks, while fronting up against Ardie Savea.
Savea is one of the best loose forwards in the world and is currently the best All Black forward. He will bring a typically confrontational and aggressive game plan, which he is known for, and it will be up to Wiese to try and keep him quiet.
The front row battle
The Springboks have arguably two of the most intimidating front rows in world rugby and for good reason. Working in tandem — Trevor Nyakane, Malcolm Marx, Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch all feature as starters and off the bench at various stages. That even leaves players like Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit, who could walk into most international sides, out of the match 23.
A lot will be expected from the experienced and powerful two front rows and they will want to lay down a marker against an inexperienced visiting front three. The All Blacks front row was given a torrid time during their 2-1 series loss to Ireland and they will be looking for redemption against the Boks.
However, their starting front three features two players, namely hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho and prop George Bower, who only made their All Black debut last year, while the most experienced member is 22-cap prop Angus Ta’avo.
On the bench hooker Dane Coles is by far the most experienced head featuring 61 Test caps, but props Tyrel Lomax (2018, 14 caps) and Ethan de Groot (2021, four caps) are both relatively new. However it won’t be lost on them what a massive opportunity they have to make a huge statement by getting one over the much vaunted Bok pack.