New Zealand is on the verge of their 10th Tri-Nations title as they prepare for a landmark game against South Africa in Soweto on Saturday.
Springbok captain John Smit will play his 100th Test and Richie McCaw will lead the All Blacks for the 51st time – equalling the record of Sean Fitzpatrick.
Soweto, the famous township, will host an international rugby match for the first time.
Soccer City – venue for the football World Cup Final, is expected to attract a crowd of just under 90,000 people, the biggest rugby attendance in South Africa since 1955.
“It’s going to be amazing,” said South Africa vice-captain Victor Matfield.
New Zealand lock Brad Thorn added: “90,000 people. It’s what you dream about. I don’t care if they are cheering for me or booing, so long as they are there.
“These are the things that you look back on for the rest of your life and go ‘gee, I was lucky to be part of it’.”
With four wins from four, the All Blacks need just a point from their last two games to seal a 10th crown in the 15 years of the southern hemisphere championship.
Graham Henry’s team has underlined its ranking as the best in the world with a ruthless brand of high-paced, attacking rugby that took it to back-to-back wins over tournament defending champion South Africa and then successive victories over Australia.
The runaway standings leader has scored 17 tries in four games – versus six by Australia and four by South Africa, who have played a game less.
But for the moment, the All Blacks have set aside overall Tri-Nations triumph in favour of a third win over the Boks.
Henry said avenging South Africa’s sweep of New Zealand in 2009 was “a pretty big deal” for his team.
“It’s a motivating factor and has been since the series began,” he said.
“All we’re thinking about is getting ourselves right to play well on the weekend. If we do the job there will be another focus, won’t there?” Henry said, referring to the title.
“To be honest, I’d be disappointed to win the Tri-Nations with just one point in the next two games,” McCaw said.
Flank McCaw, one of the standout players for the All Blacks this season, also quickly moved past his own personal achievement, saying he didn’t get “too carried away with numbers.”
“Obviously you’re pretty proud to captain the team for a few years but we still have to do the job on Saturday,” he said.
“We’ve got a hell of a test match. We’ve got to make sure we do the job dead right.”
Opposite number Smit will become the 15th player, and second South African after Percy Montgomery, to win 100 caps.
“It’s a lovely milestone, which I’m proud of, but it really does take a back seat in terms of the clash we have against the All Blacks,” the front row forward said.
The struggling Springboks were outplayed by New Zealand and Australia in three straight losses on the road, and have faced on-field disciplinary problems and off-field distractions after coach Peter de Villiers was summoned to a hearing over comments he was alleged to have made about referees. He was cleared.
South Africa can’t retain its title, but can win back some pride in its three home games.
“I think the biggest thing was to get our heads clean again,” Matfield said.
“Just to go away, get away from rugby, and to get back now and refocus. We’re ready to go.”
De Villiers said his team had addressed their discipline issues after having players sin-binned in all three games against New Zealand and Australia. He said discipline was “primary” in the South African team.
Article courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet