Johannesburg – Global rugby gladiators South Africa and New Zealand come face to face in Johannesburg Saturday with All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw and Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer craving victory.
Flanker McCaw will overtake fellow legend Colin Meads by making a record 134th appearance for the All Blacks, all but one of them in Tests.
And Meyer wants to halt a run of five consecutive Springbok losses against their greatest foes since he took charge two seasons ago.
A sell-out 62,000 Ellis Park crowd will watch the top-ranked New Zealanders and the second-ranked South Africa continue a rivalry that began 93 years ago in Dunedin with an All Blacks victory.
And the fact that New Zealand take an unassailable six-point southern hemisphere championship lead into the final-round fixture is unlikely to have any impact on its intensity.
South Africa initially held a slight advantage in the rivalry, but have been unable to consistently match New Zealand since emerging from apartheid-induced isolation 22 years ago.
The All Blacks have won nine of the previous 10 Tests between countries who have each lifted the Rugby World Cup twice.
And the pre-2011 World Cup win for the Springboks in Port Elizabeth was hollow as their opponents rested many key players.
Since making his Test debut against Ireland in 2001, openside McCaw has developed into a colossus, leading by example as he wins endless breakdown ball.
The 33-year-old who loves flying is also a deadly finisher, scoring three Championship tries this season, including a crucial one against the Springboks in Wellington.
An Aaron Cruden cross-field kick caught South Africa napping, No. 8 Kieran Read stayed upright under pressure from Jean de Villiers and McCaw took a pass to dot down in the corner.
A one-point deficit was transformed into a four-point lead the All Blacks never surrendered as they ground out a 14-10 victory.
McCaw far prefers doing his talking on the field rather than off it and it was left to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to praise his skipper.
“On behalf of myself and the team, I would like to congratulate Richie on the achievement,” he said.
“He is a special player who has played each and every one of those games with a huge amount of commitment, passion and mental fortitude.
“This is reflected in his unwavering will to win and shown by the fact that he has won an incredible 89 percent of all his matches.”
Meyer, who developed the Pretoria Blue Bulls into a formidable international force during the past decade, has done well with the Springboks, except when it comes to the All Blacks.
Wellington last month was the closest he came to ending a hoodoo that has seen New Zealand triumph in Dunedin, Soweto, Auckland and Johannesburg.
The 38-27 Ellis Park defeat last year rankles as the Springboks scored four tries and led by three points entering the closing stages of an epic, only to concede two tries.
Meyer, an intense coach noticeably greyer than when he assumed control, believes tactical kicking could decide his sixth showdown with the men in black.
“If you want to beat the All Blacks you have to deal with their tactical-kicking game, which is the best in the world,” he said.
“For us it will be all about execution, discipline, not having ‘soft’ moments and using every opportunity.”
South Africa are leaving a decision on outstanding No. 8 Duane Vermeulen, who has a rib injury, until the last minute with Schalk Burger standing by.
There will be a change at hooker from the side that overcame Australia 28-10 in Cape Town last weekend as Bismarck du Plessis comes in for Adriaan Strauss.
New Zealand have made two injury-related changes to the team that started in the Championship-clinching 34-13 triumph over Argentina.
Loosehead prop Joe Moody gets his first start in place of Wyatt Crockett and Jeremy Thrush takes over from Brodie Retallick.– Sapa-AFP