The All Blacks will descend on Ellis Park to play the Springboks in what will be the deciding match of the tournament, and the defending champions will be happy they have arrived with one hand already grasping the trophy.
It is simple maths.
The Springboks must win with a bonus point to claim The Rugby Championship.
Any other result, from an All Blacks defeat with the South African registering four tries to a draw, will see the title remain in New Zealand Rugby HQ.
So how will the All Blacks win this?
One suspects that the All Blacks position at the top of world rugby comes from a fact that they have an innate confidence, bred by results and history, that if they get it all right, and they are on their game, they are all but impossible to stop.
The phrase ‘only New Zealand can lose this’ - an eerie statement proved again in a Yacht race in San Francisco – is true for the All Blacks, and the Springboks at least have never really beaten their great rivals as much as smash them down. The 2013 vintage of this New Zealand team has shown an ability to absorb punishment which is backed by the world’s best defence, and an ability to strike in a manner that suggests they are the game’s apex predator.
If they nail their preparation and execute the coach’s plans, the All Blacks have enough strength to take this game, irrespective of what the Springboks throw at them.
How will the Springboks win this?
While some might lament their brutal approach as one dimensional, most of the great victories by South African sides in this great contest has been when they have been able to exert their will on an All Blacks pack – and the annals of history describe some contests that some might now view as being more akin to full out war.
One dimensional forward might has won many a Springboks contest against their black clad foes.
Yet there is another element to this direct game, as the Springboks are not looking at an 80 minute bludgeoning routine, but rather softening up their opponents before a growing backline will strike, with South Africa convincingly leading the world with 35 tries in 2013 (compared to the All Blacks 26).
Man for man the Springboks have the side to defeat the All Blacks but they will need to be on top of their games, as no one smells blood as voraciously as the World Cup holders. But the hosts have the ability to powerhouse through any wounds the defending champions might inflict, for their ‘bully boy’ tactics have beaten New Zealand many times before.
How will the All Blacks lose this?
One suspects that much will fall on the young shoulders of players who have not been tested in such a colosseum before, even the prodigal son Ben Smith, let alone captain Richie McCaw, has never played a Springboks Test at Ellis Park, and they wouldn’t be the first Kiwi side to be spooked by the occasion.
However while the truism that it will all be decided up front isn’t always true, it will be here.
The All Blacks entire function begins with the dominance their pack usually exerts, but Argentina showed that the relentless go forward game New Zealand likes to play will not work if met with fierce resistance at the breakdown and set piece. The champions might have the class to win on the back foot, but if the Springboks comprehensively outmuscle their opposites here, the title will change hands.
How will the Springboks lose this?
This is a diplomatic Springboks side that talks a complete gentlemen’s game despite a hard edge ever present on the field. That classical restraint shown by Heyneke Meyer and Jean de Villiers is quite different to the more openly emotional South African coaches and captains, and one wonders if the team will be let loose like they need to be.
Meyer is an architect of titles no doubt, but he will need to fire up his side to unleash hell on an All Blacks team that has the weaponry to counter almost anything the Springboks can throw at them.
But ill-discipline will lose them the game against a composed All Blacks side, while a physical at all costs style will lose them the game against a clinical All Blacks side. The Springboks will need to control their emotion and make sure that they do more than just try to knock the visitors off their own strategies. The hosts need to play this game to win, not to contain.
Especially with a bonus point required.
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