RWC 2019 Pool B: New Zealand vs. South Africa
Venue: International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama
Date: Saturday, September 21, 2019
South Africa heads to Japan as the newly crowned Rugby Championship winners. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that the team should fear no one in Japan given their current form and winning style, but the fact remains that no team that has ever won the Tri-Nations or Rugby Championship has gone on to also win the World Cup in the same year. South Africa will have to change decades of history to claim their second trophy this season.
New Zealand comes into the tournament with much less of an invincible feel that at any point in the last decade. The two-time defending champions have some questions about their team selection and form, with South Africa and the best teams in the Northern hemisphere feeling like they have the ability to beat them and take the trophy to a new destination.
It is time to see if all the prep work that Steve Hansen has been undertaking for this World Cup shows through in his opening day match selection. Ever since Damian McKenzie was ruled out of the tournament with a torn ACL, Hansen has struggled to find the right combination of players in his backline to play the style of rugby he wants to use.
In the warm-up games for Japan, Beauden Barrett has been wearing the number 15 jumper with Richie Mo’unga playing the role of pivot. It is a combination that has given decidedly mixed results, with the All Blacks lacking the same drive and creativity with Barrett out of the front line ball playing position. It will be interesting to see exactly how Hansen has his men line up in this one.
The South Africans have come out of nowhere as a team to be reckoned with in Japan. As recently as last year the union seemed to be in crisis, but getting the foreign-based players back into the lineup has been huge for Rassie Erasmus. Add in that many of his domestic Springboks have peaked their form at the right time in the cycle and you have a team capable of winning this whole competition.
The Springboks are blessed at scrum-half with the star power of Faf de Klerk and the late emergence of Herchel Jantjies. They also have one of the best fly-halves in the world in Handre Pollard and an exciting backline in general with the electric Cheslin Kolbe on the wing. When you combine this with a typically brutal South African pack, it is fair to say that New Zealand will be tested in an opener that could be a preview of a game to be played again much later in the tournament.
This should be a thrilling game and one that ends up very close on the scoreboard. It would surprise no one is this match was repeated in the World Cup final, and if the result was different that day to how it goes here. There is certainly value in taking the underdog South Africans to win, but New Zealand are the defending champions and still the best team in this competition until otherwise proven