Clash of styles as All Blacks, Boks meet in WC blockbuster - GulfToday

Clash of styles as All Blacks, Boks meet in WC blockbuster

NZ-Rugby-Players

New Zealand players train during their captain’s run prior to their World Cup match against South Africa on Saturday. Associated Press

Yokohama: New Zealand captain Kieran Read said Saturday’s highly anticipated clash with South Africa is one of the biggest matches of his career as the All Blacks launch their bid for a record third consecutive world crown.

The Pool B match-up at Yokohama features two of the most successful sides in rugby history, and two of the sport’s greatest rivals, in a tournament where no team has lost a pool match and gone on to lift the trophy.

The pre-match exchanges focused on whether referees do or do not have a bias towards the All Blacks, but the match reality centres on the the rapid improvement of the Springboks since they were caned 57-0 by New Zealand two years ago.

Rassie Erasmus came in as coach and instigated an approach that hinges on kicking for territory and then regaining the ball through forward power.

It has resulted in a margin of no more than two points in the next four matches against the reigning world champions, setting up what could be a classic at the 70,000-capacity International Yokohama Stadium.

The All Blacks, meanwhile, have tweaked their roster but remain comfortable with an emphasis on striking out wide, and the contrast in styles may well see the outcome decided by one error from either side.

“South Africa in our opening game of the tournament is going to be one of the bigger games you play over your career,” said Read, the 122-Test veteran who featured in both the 2011 and 2015 World Cup finals.

Meanwhile, being recognised as number one in the world is nice but to Ireland coach Joe Schmidt that means nothing when preparing his injury-hampered side to face Scotland in their World Cup opener.

With a rearranged Ireland backline and forecast wet weather, the outcome may well be decided in a titanic battle of the halves.

Ireland’s Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton face Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell at Yokohama on Sunday.

Laidlaw is effective whether kicking for territory or points, Russell possesses a variety of options with his kicking game.

The rival halves know every nuance of each other’s play from regular clashes in the Six Nations, but Schmidt says the World Cup will surely produce the unexpected.

Agence France-Presse