The All Blacks have restored their most potent run on XV just as was expected, in the hope of setting the record straight in their return Rugby Championship clash against the Springboks on Saturday.
New Zealand abruptly came a cropper when they lost to SA in Wellington last month‚ but their clash at Loftus Versfeld in the nation’s capital on Saturday provides the opportunity to atone for that rare defeat.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has summoned the cavalry. He made four changes to the side that beat Argentina in Buenos Aires last weekend with two significant changes in the pack.
Captain Kieran Read is back having been spared the 20,000km journey from Auckland to Buenos Aires and then onto Johannesburg via Sao Paulo.
He took the shorter 13,100km route here via Sydney last weekend.
Also back in the team is the sturdy‚ reassuring presence of grizzled tighthead prop Owen Franks.
In the backs Aaron Smith comes in while TJ Perenara drops to the bench.
Interestingly‚ Hansen opted to start with the smash-and-grab skills of Sonny Bill Williams at inside centre‚ while the steady Ryan Crotty will come off the bench. Jack Goodhue will start in the No13 jumper.
Hansen is preparing for combat not dissimilar to the tension filled scrap they had in Wellington.
“Test matches between the All Blacks and the Springboks are always intense and dramatic contests‚ and we expect this weekend will be no different‚” said Hansen.
Despite the fact that his team has already clinched the Rugby Championship‚ they will go full throttle at Loftus.
Besides‚ they’ve got unfinished business with the Boks.
“Nothing changes for us‚” he said.
“It’s a Test match that everyone in New Zealand expects us to win.
“The fact that it’s an All Blacks-Springboks Test match makes it even more exciting and it’s one that we’re really looking forward to.
“South Africa are playing with a lot of confidence and after their two recent wins‚ their confidence levels will be even higher.
“So we’ll need to respond with real purpose‚ composure‚ belief and intensity.
“While our preparation this week has had to be slightly modified because of our travel‚ it has still been thorough‚ which should put us in good stead for Saturday.
“South Africa have grown an arm and a leg since they knocked us over in Wellington. I thought they played really well against Aussie.
“You’ve got two teams that are going to go at it. Two big bulls in the bull pen‚ last man standing‚ so to speak.”
The All Blacks team:
Ben Smith; Waisake Naholo‚ Jack Goodhue‚ Sonny Bill Williams‚ Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett‚ Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain)‚ Sam Cane‚ Shannon Frizell; Scott Barrett‚ Sam Whitelock; Owen Franks‚ Codie Taylor‚ Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Nathan Harris‚ Tim Perry‚ Ofa Tuungafasi‚ Patrick Tuipulotu‚ Ardie Savea; TJ Perenara‚ Richie Mo’unga‚ Ryan Crotty.