It is the greatest clash in the history of world rugby: New Zealand vs South Africa. Traditionally these rivals have been the numbers one and two in the world save for occasional interference by Australia, England, Wales and maybe France. But even the Wallabies, British and French know the true test of who is the word’s best is contested between the All Blacks and Springboks.
The two will meet again on Saturday in the first semi-final of the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham. The Kiwis and Boks have played three Tests at the World Cup. The first was in the memorable 1995 tournament when the South Africans won the World Cup in extra time at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Four years later in 1999, the two rivals met in Cardiff to contest the third place play-off after the New Zealanders lost to Les Bleus in the semi-finals while the Australians won the other semi-final in extra time against the green and gold. The Africans would win the bronze medal in a closely-fought battle 22-18.
The last time was in 2003 in Melbourne in the quarter-final when the men from the land of the long white cloud had a comfortable 29-9 win. Saturday’s Test match will be the 91st between the two countries. Heynek Meyer’s men trail the head-to-head 52-35 with three draws.
The referee is Jérôme Garcès of France. Over the years South Africa has played 21 Test matches at Twickenham, winning 12 and losing nine. Nineteen matches were against England. The other two were against Australia in the 1999 RWC semi-final and against Wales last Saturday.
Steven Hansen’s side won its pool by defeating Argentina, Tonga, Georgia and Namibia before destroying the French in the quarter-finals. Meyer’s men were shocked by Japan first up before bouncing back with wins against Samoa, Scotland and the United States of America before a last-gasp try against Wales saw them into the final four. No international team has beaten the Oceania side more times than the Springboks but with just three defeats since winning their second Webb Ellis Cup four years ago, the form shown by Hansen’s charges demands that they start this London encounter as the favourites.