All Blacks and Springboks set to roll the dice for WC prequel at Rugby C’ship tie - GulfToday

All Blacks and Springboks set to roll the dice for WC prequel at Rugby C’ship tie

Steve-Hansen

New Zealand’s All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen says focus is on the World Cup. Reuters

Managing risk while experimenting with selections, tactics and combinations has been the major theme in the build-up to Saturday’s Rugby Championship blockbuster clash between South Africa and New Zealand.

Meetings between the two southern hemisphere superpowers are always highly anticipated, no more so than this year when they will also face off in the opening match of the Rugby World Cup in Japan in September.

With an eye on that tournament, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and his Springboks counterpart Rassie Erasmus have both made wholesale changes to teams that produced victories in the opening round of fixtures last week.

The All Blacks beat Argentina 20-16 in Buenos Aires, while the Springboks thrashed Australia 35-17 in Johannesburg and the Wellington clash will go a long way to deciding the winner of this year’s truncated championship.

Several front-line players were rested by both teams last week, with a number of Super Rugby-winning Canterbury Crusaders not travelling to Argentina and a large advance party of Springboks arriving in New Zealand a week early.

Only three starters from each side will be on the field at kickoff on Saturday and while there are experimental designs to both backlines, the packs are arguably the strongest available.

Hansen decided the time was right to give Richie Mo’unga a start at flyhalf with Beauden Barrett shunted back to fullback, a formation which allows the possibility of fielding twin playmakers in Japan.

Hansen admits Barrett and Mo’unga against South Africa is a gamble, but is worth it in terms of World Cup planning.

Hansen sprung a surprise on Thursday naming Mo’unga in the 10 jersey with Barrett at 15 for Saturday’s Test in Wellington with regular fullback Ben Smith moving to the right wing.

He also hinted at further changes which could include moving captain Kieran Read to the side of the scrum to shore up the loose trio.

Read is among eight members of the Super Rugby champion Crusaders to return to the All Blacks along with a now injury-free Sonny Bill Williams.

The question of whether rising star Mo’unga or double world player of the year Barrett is the better pivot has divided New Zealand rugby followers for the past two years.

Hansen said he had debated for sometime how best to utilise both players simultaneously, and with the World Cup looming this crunch Test against the Springboks appeared to be the right time to experiment.

“There’s always a risk in anything you do. I’ve often said if the reward’s worth the risk, then take the risk,” he said, indicating the pair gave him two players capable of keeping the big Springbok pack moving.

“We’ve got a plan with a whole lot of things that we want to do before we get to the nitty gritty business (of the World Cup) and we just felt Saturday’s the right time to try that particular part of the plan,” he added. Mo’unga, the backline director for the Crusaders, will be playing only his 10th Test while Barrett, who has plenty of experience at fullback, will be playing his 75th.

Although the All Blacks are keen to avenge last year’s Rugby Championship loss to the Springboks in Wellington, Hansen insisted that winning the series, which also includes Australia and Argentina, was not a priority.

“That’s no disrespect to the Rugby Championship, it’s just the way it happens to be in World Cup year,” he said.

Agencies