New Zealand and South Africa will lock horns for an eagerly anticipated World Cup showdown at the International Stadium in Yokohama on Saturday. The All-Blacks are the clear favourites to win the World Cup for the third time in a row this year. However, the Springboks are the second favourites to seize glory, and both teams have been drawn in the same group, so we should expect fireworks in Saturday’s game.
If both teams make it out of this group – and the really should – then they will go into opposite sides of the quarter-final draw. That means they would be kept apart until a potential final showdown on November 2. The final also takes place at the International Stadium in Yokohama, so it will be interesting to see how both teams fare in Saturday’s clash. The leading sports betting sites all make New Zealand the favourites to win the game, but South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus has named a strong side and the Springboks are full of confidence right now.
The return of captain Siya Kolisi is the only change to the 23 that held the All-Blacks to a pulsating 16-16 draw in Wellington in July. It is the exact same team that beat Japan 41-7 a fortnight ago, making it the first time for four years that South Africa have named an unchanged match day squad. No 8 Duane Vermeulen will be appearing in his 50th Test, so he will be fired up, and the nation expects a strong performance from their heroes.
“We’ve found some consistency and some momentum in a number of ways this season and one of them is in selection,” said Erasmus.
“We have 31 players in the squad, any of whom I would be happy to select, but this is a line-up that has worked well as a starting combination and one with real momentum to come from the bench. We’re continuing to develop and new players are always pushing a claim but we’ve prepared well and we’re looking forward to what will be another extremely close match.”
South Africa are bidding to win the World Cup for a third time and that would move them level with New Zealand in the all time stakes. The impetus will be on the All-Blacks to prove why they are tournament favourites by sweeping aside arguably their greatest rivals in their opening pool stage game. Legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter led them to glory in 2015, but they are long since retired and it is up to a new generation of superstars to take up the mantle.
Chief among them is Beauden Barrett, who has been arguably the world’s best player over the past few years. He took over Carter’s role when the great man retired and he has excelled both at fly-half and full-back. He is blessed with blistering pace and he is capable of the moments of magic that can win games. It will be up to Barrett to show that he is better than Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton at this tournament, and if he can pull it off then New Zealand should surge to victory.
Both the Springboks and the All-Blacks have plenty of world-class players within their ranks, and it is hard to split them right now. The forecast suggests that it will be rainy in Yokohama over the weekend, and that could suit South Africa. A monstrous pack led by Kolisi could slow the pace of the game down in slippery conditions and grind away up the middle of the pitch, while their halves kick high or long to pile the pressure on the All-Blacks. That could make for the tightest game imaginable, and whoever prevails will really fancy their chances of going on and lifting the trophy.