New Zealand vs. South Africa: Key Battles to Watch
The 2013 Rugby Championship hots up this weekend with what promises to be the first genuine showdown of the tournament as New Zealand host South Africa at Eden Park in Auckland.
Key individuals battles will be taking place all over the park in front of a sellout crowd as both side look to maintain their perfect record of three wins.
Both overcame the forward power of Argentina and made relatively light work of the struggling Wallabies, but now they face a real test that will serve as genuine marker for both teams.
Table toppers South Africa have been a team in development, but they hit their straps with a record win in Australia last time out to suggest Heyneke Meyer's outfit are the real deal.
New Zealand have not been truly tested this year and need to show their record thumping by England at Twickenham last winter was merely a blip.
We take a look at the individual battles that are likely to settle this seismic showdown.
Ma'a Nonu vs. Jean De Villiers
New Zealand's attacking play relies a great deal on the ability of inside centre Ma'a Nonu to get them over the gain line.
The power-packed All Black most often achieves this go forward, which then allows his loose forwards to deliver quick ball for further attacks.
All Blacks legend Dan Carter recently described Nonu's importance to New Zealand, as carried by stuff.co.nz:
He's just one of those reliable guys who can get you over the gain line whenever you need it. He is a bit of a go-to man for myself. His footwork and his strength are real attributes that encourage me just to give him the ball and let him get us going forward.
His experience is important as well. He's played in a lot of big matches in his career, and for an occasion like this he's nice and relaxed and thinking clear as well, so he's a good player to have outside.
Facing Nonu is Springboks' skipper Jean de Villiers, a brilliant defender proving to be a fine leader since taking over from John Smit.
De Villiers cannot afford to give Nonu an inch, while Nonu will have to be on his guard against the intelligent and direct running of his opposite number that saw him score a cracking try in the win over the Wallabies.
Sam Cane vs. Willem Alberts
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Taking on the might of South Africa is never an easy task, especially when you are replacing your skipper and one of the all-time rugby greats.
With Richie Mccaw picking up a knee injury in the win over Argentina, 21-year-old Sam Cane is handed the No. 7 jersey for what will be the biggest challenge of his nine-Test career so far.
In typical New Zealand style, the chances are that Cane will slip seamlessly into the side, though McCaw is some act to follow.
Cane's coach Steve Hansen certainly thinks he's up to the challenge, as reported by Planet Rugby:
He's ready. He's been around the environment for quite some time now. He's a good athlete. Mentally he's able to put things into perspective and put things in the right places.
It's not an easy job coming in behind a guy like McCaw because you're compared to him all the time.
Springboks openside Willem Alberts will be hoping to spoil Cane's day with another rampaging performance.
As always, the breakdown will be crucial, and Cane must stop Alberts from giving the Boks an edge in this area.
Dan Carter vs. Morne Steyn
In the absence of injured skipper McCaw, New Zealand will be looking to veteran fly-half Dan Carter to help plug the leadership gap.
We've become accustomed to Carter producing impeccable performances, but there is more responsibility on him this week to guide his team to victory.
Carter is certainly aware of the threat the Boks posed and described the clash as the All Blacks' biggest since their 2011 World Cup triumph.
As reported by Fairfax News and carried by stuff.co.nz:
We know physically they're an awesome side, but with some of the tries they have been scoring they've been playing quite an open style.
I don't know whether it's surprised me or not but it's something they probably haven't done so well in the past. Their backs are scoring good tries, their outside backs are making breaks, and they're a bit more of an all-round package - whereas in previous years they have been quite one-dimensional.
Boks fly-half Morne Steyn will need to make the most of every chance that falls to the visitors but also to allow his outside backs continue the try-scoring form they have shown to date in the tournament.
Kieran Read vs. Duane Vermeulen
Kieran Read has been one of the All Blacks' most consistent performers in recent years, and his combination with McCaw was a key factor in New Zealand's success in the World Cup and last year's Rugby Championship.
With inexperienced openside Cane replacing McCaw this week, Read will need to be at his absolute peak, especially as he is facing one of the Boks most effective players in Duane Vermeulen.
The Boks always try to dominate up front. Saturday in Eden Park will be no different, and Read must stop Vermeulen and his fellow back-rowers Alberts and Francois Louw from gaining an upper hand.
Allow them to get momentum with their powerful, direct running, and the rest of the team will follow suit.
More of the crunching tackles like the one featured in the video clip will certainly help.
Dane Coles vs. Bismarck Du Plessis
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The much-reported scrum engagement laws may have a big say on the outcome of this game, and All Blacks coach Hansen has shown great faith in handing up-and-coming hooker Dane Coles the starting jersey.
Coles is up against veteran Bismarck du Plessis, and whichever front row best deals with the new regulations could gain their side a vital edge.
The incredibly strong du Plessis likes nothing more than a good scrap, and Coles needs to let him know early on that he cannot be intimidated.
As far as tests go, it could not get much bigger for the 26-year-old Coles.