Auckland — Regarding the Springboks, it is amazing the difference a year has made. Allister Coetzee’s charges had to drag themselves to Christchurch in 2016 to face the All Blacks and the result was a 41-13 hammering.
The All Blacks dished out a 57-15 hiding in Durban a few weeks later.
Now, after a six-match winning streak, the Springboks have every reason to be confident ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship date against the Kiwis at the North Harbour Stadium in Albany.
But the Boks have not won in New Zealand in eight years and any All Blacks side, even when shorn of their first-choice front row and with eight changes from the most recent encounter, are still a formidable entity.
Coetzee wanted to be quietly confident about his team’s chances, but there is a feeling the All Blacks may be saving their best for their ultimate foes. Coetzee also said he had finally adapted to the challenge of coaching at international level.
"It’s great to hear from [All Blacks coach] Steve Hansen and the guys there that they recognise we’re a happy team and the fact they have selected their strongest side [is a compliment].
"That’s all good but it comes down to the 80 minutes on Saturday. There’s always been respect between the sides but we are well prepared and we’re in for a helluva Test match," Coetzee said.
"It’s been bloody challenging coaching at international level, especially in rugby-mad countries with the supporters that we have. I suppose it’s the same all over, but being the South African to manage the moods of millions all over is not an easy job but it comes with the job.
"I’m happy our players are in good shape because our big thing was the ability to contest at this level is determined by our Super Rugby conditioning and those who compete in the play-offs," Coetzee said.
Hansen has had to deal with criticism despite the All Blacks only losing one game this season. There is a growing sense of pessimism about the All Blacks’ veneer of invincibility staying unscathed against their southern hemisphere neighbours.
After galloping to a 54-34 clouting of Australia in Sydney on August19, they had to fight the next week to keep their 16-year unbeaten streak against Australia at home intact in a tight, 35-29 win in Dunedin.
They also had to rely on their superior composure and conditioning to see off a determined Argentina 39-22 in New Plymouth last week after the Pumas had taken a 22-15 lead after 50 minutes.
Hansen said he understood the angst about the team’s stuttering performances.
He also raised eyebrows with the selection of Chiefs loosehead prop Kane Hames ahead of the experienced Crusader Wyatt Crockett.
The All Blacks have lost a wealth of front-row experience due to the injury-enforced absence of Owen Franks and Joe Moody.
"What we got in the drawn British and Irish Lions series was a whole lot of different things this young group has to learn. We’ve got a young skipper [in Kieran Read] even though he’s played 100 Tests. He’s being challenged, the leadership group is being challenged and so are the youngsters," Hansen said.
"With the injuries, we’ve had an awkward season. We’ve lost one, drawn one but in other games we’ve got out of tight spots and played some good rugby," he said.
"While some of these guys are very new, they are surrounded by guys who have been around for a long time. The culture of the team is good…."