You would be forgiven if last week's game between the Springboks and the All Blacks caught you by surprise. Between the Commonwealth games, F1 and the Premier League build up it's been a festival for sports fans of late. If you have an interest in rugby betting, the good news is that after last week's 26-10 victory over the All Blacks in Nelspruit, they have to do it all again on Saturday.
The Rugby Championship almost has a different feel to it these days. With our South African teams now competing in the United Rugby Championship, we aren’t used to seeing the Barretts, Saveas and Iones of the world. In fact, I’m pretty certain a lot of fans out there would not have recognised a few names on the All Black team sheet. But just in case there were any doubts about the significance of having the All Blacks in town, do yourself a favour and listen to the Mbombela Stadium erupt during the national anthem.
One of the loudest renditions I can remember. The tone was well and truly set, and the Springboks delivered.
As far as dominant performances go, it was almost as good as it gets for Siya Kolisi’s men. The All Blacks, traditionally lauded for their flare and high rugby IQ, seemed rattled and out of answers. Every time they looked like they might gain an inch of momentum, the Springboks recovered, and the vice tightened. Malcolm Marx in his 50th game was colossal, winning 5 turnovers and generally just being an absolute beast in every involvement. I also thought Jaden Hendrikse was outstanding, showing some real maturity in the absence of Faf de Klerk.
Make no mistake, the result would have hurt the All Blacks. You could see it in their eyes after Willie Le Roux finished off a manic 14-man defensive effort and pounced on a loose ball to seal the biggest winning margin over the All Blacks since the professional era. The pre match rugby betting odds definitely indicate that this margin was not the expected outcome by the bookies.
These rugby giants have been competing against each other for over 100 years. The rivalry, openly described by the players as the biggest test in a players career, brings out the very best in them. History favours the All Blacks in terms of results. In 102 games, they have won on 60 occasions. The three-time rugby World Cup winners have been in a league of their own for the better part of a decade, boasting a 72% win record against the Springboks. However, after a home series defeat against Ireland and last week's result, the All Black world-beating narrative is starting to fade. Rapidly.
It doesn’t get any easier for the men in Black. After a body count post game, all roads lead to Ellis Park. A happy hunting ground for the Springboks, having won 9 out of 14 matches against the All Blacks at the Johannesburg venue. The same venue that has hosted some of the most iconic games between the two sides. Who could forget that ’95 Rugby World Cup Victory over the ‘invincibles’, or more recently Pat Lambie kicking over a long distance penalty to clinch a 27-25 victory at a time where the ABs could not be touched.
I don't expect much to change in terms of the approach this weekend, and why would they? The Springbok forward factory, possibly the envy of every coach in the game, will unleash Ox Nche and Duane Vermuelen into the fold this week. The latter, coming off knee surgery, has been a mainstay in the squad over Rassie’s reign. Together, they will add to the bustling queue of large men running hard at you phase after phase. “Strap your shoulders on, bro”.
In the backs, Kurt-Lee Arendse will be serving a suspension and Faf de Klerk misses out as he recovers from a nasty head knock. They are replaced by Jesse Kriel and DHL Stormers scrum-half Herschell Janties who will come off the bench. If the Boks are able to bring the same intensity and accuracy they showed on Saturday, it's irrelevant who plays. No one can live with them.
The All Blacks simply can't be that bad again this week. Traveling across the world, fighting jet lag all week and then playing the world champions on their home turf a few days later was always going to be a tough task. This week they won't be wide awake at 3am, the air won't feel as thin, and they would have had another week together with limited distractions.Sportingbet’s current rugby odds put the ABs as firm underdogs going into the clash in Jo’burg. We can definitely expect a reaction, but you have to feel that if they were treading water before this, now they have weights tied to their ankles.
Nic Groom is a former South African Rugby Union player. He played scrum-half for the Cape Town based Western Province and the Stormers, representing the Cape side over 126 times. His time in Cape Town saw him win 2 Currie Cups and a Vodacom Cup and in 2015 he was selected for the Springbok incoming tour squad vs Ireland. He later signed for English Premiership side Northampton Saints and played 50 games for the East Midlands Club. After a thrilling 11 year career, which saw him represent the Barbarians, South Africa 'A', the Lions and Edinburgh Rugby, he finished playing at London Irish. Nic has played 229 professional rugby games.