By Alan Dymock
NOT SINCE Rage Against the Machine blasted past X Factor’s Joe McElderry at Christmastime 2009 has the number one spot been so coveted.
On Saturday at Eden Park, New Zealand will go toe to toe with South Africa, with the winner of the contest being named world number one in the IRB World Rankings.
The All Blacks have occupied top spot since 2009 and have been rated the best in the world for 82% of the time that the Rankings have existed (they began in October 2003).
Speaking of the task ahead, South Africa captain Jean De Villiers said: “The venue where we’re playing at is not a place where a lot of people come and win. We will have to play better than we’ve ever played. We will have to make basically no mistakes and we will have to make sure the ball bounces in our direction.”
There is a shared sense of wariness, with outlets in New Zealand carrying quotes from former captain Buck Shelford, who said: “The Boks have improved and are playing a more expansive game, they are strong at the back and up front and like New Zealand are good at building pressure,” before adding the caveat: “but I think we use the ball a bit better than the South Africans, while they have gone back to what they know, which is their forward pack.”
Of course something has to give. New Zealand have won six in a row, while South Africa could make it a nice round 10 if they triumph.
In the other fourth round Rugby Championship match, both sets of winless warriors from Argentina and Australia will be hoping they can rub themselves with more green. The Pumas, of course, are still looking to get their first win in the competition and Ewen McKenzie must be pretty worried and a little flustered if he has dropped Will Genia. Be prepared for some panicky rugby.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.
Subs:Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Steven Luatua, Matt Todd, Tawera Kerr Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau
South Africa: Zane Kirchner, Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht, Jean de Villiers (c), Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Flip van der Merwe, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: Adriaan Strauss, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Juandré Kruger, Siya Kolisi, Jano Vermaak, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein.
Australia: Israel Folau, James O’Connor, Adam-Ashley Cooper, Christian Lealiifano, Nick Cummins, Quade Cooper, Nic White, James Slipper, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Scott Fardy, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen (c).
Subs: Saia Faingaa, Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Ben McCalman, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani
Pumas: Juan Martin Hernandez, Horacio Agulla, Gonzalo Tiesi, Felipe Contepomi, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Thomas Cubelli; Marcos Ayerza, Agustín Creevy, Juan Figallo, Manuel Carizza, Julio Farias Cabello, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (c), Pablo Matera, Juan Manuel Leguizamón
Subs: Eusebio Guiñaz, Nahuel Lobo, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Mariano Galarza, Benjamín Macome, Martín Landajo, Santiago Fernández, Lucas González Amorosino