This Saturday’s Rugby Championship decider between South Africa and New Zealand is balanced on the knife’s edge that all neutrals would have hoped for.
Unlike other tournament finales, this clash isn’t set up quite as easily as saying who wins, wins, but is more an intricate maze of variables and mitigating factors, all of which can be affected with the slightest of steps.
Looking ahead to the encounter, read on for coverage of all the ifs, buts and maybes to ensure you’re not out of the loop come this weekend’s Johannesburg matchup.
South Africa Chances
This Saturday is a nothing-to-lose, everything-to gain affair for the Springbok hosts who currently sit in second place behind the All Blacks, five points from Rugby Championship salvation.
As such, one can expect to see just about every South African penalty kicked to touch, with Jean De Villiers showing against Australia last weekend just how eager he is to take it to the enemy.
With four tries a necessity for Heyneke Meyer’s team, it’s good that South Africa boast the most offensively proficient side in the Championship, although it’s worth noting that the All Blacks have more attacking bonus points.
Due to the strength of the opposition across the park, there isn’t any one area that the Ellis Park hosts can really target as a New Zealand weak point. That being said, Meyer’s forwards were bearing fruit back in Eden Park until Bismarck Du Plessis was wrongfully shown a red card.
Unless those four tries are scored, second place is the best South Africa can hope for. The team already have the advantage of points difference—eight more than New Zealand—heading into this fixture, but even that won’t be sufficient unless they can put their visitors to the sword.
Even with a bonus-point victory, South Africa will still miss out on the title if the All Blacks stay within seven points, so the Springboks will have to produce an outstanding display at both ends of the park to lift the trophy.
An unenviable task, if ever there was one.
New Zealand Chances
If Steve Hansen’s men had just one more point to their name, New Zealand would already be out of sight for South Africa.
It goes without saying that, should South Africa fail to win, their hopes of staging an upset are dashed, with the All Blacks simply needing to stay within a converted try of the Springboks in order to win the competition for the second year running.
However, it isn’t exactly in the All Blacks’ nature to simply tighten up and settle for tournament glory when there’s a game left to be won.
It’s already been confirmed that Richie McCaw will return from injury to feature against the Springboks, but the veteran isn’t the only warrior spirit in the world champions’ midst:
Instead, the visitors are likely to chase the game, as is typical of their style, attempting a repeat of the win they earned in Johannesburg last year.
From Nos. 1 to 15, New Zealand have been an incredibly powerful unit this summer and will continue to call upon talents like McCaw, Kieran Read, Ma’a Nonu and Julian Savea in a bid to maintain their 100 percent Rugby Championship winning record.