All Blacks v Springboks: Old rivals set for battle
The fiercest rivalry in world rugby reignites on Saturday night in Auckland.
The stage is set for another classic between the All Blacks and the old foe, the Springboks.
In what is essentially a Rugby Championship decider, both teams will be looking to make a statement ahead of another possible meeting in France.
Both sides are coming off 40-point drubbings in the opening round, but it is unlikley Auckland weather will allow for the free flowing affairs seen in Mendoza and Pretoria.
Questions have surrounded the Springboks skipper about whether or not he would play after the loss of his father on Tuesday night.
However, South Africa have confirmed Eben Etzebeth will take the field tomorrow night.
All Blacks skipper Sam Cane is looking forward to the battle with his counterpart.
"Obviously a pretty tough week for him and his family and as a team we send our condolences to the Etzebeth family, it must be pretty tough for him being on the other side of the world, but I will see him at the coin toss and we will do battle on the field."
Springboks Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says his side is motivated to get a result for their grieving skipper.
Stick says Etzebeth's loss is also the team's loss.
"Because we are a family it is very sad, we are really with him, if there is one thing about this team we are there for each other through tough times and I know the focus this week is on him and his dad."
Cane said playing the Springboks was still the pinnacle.
"Personally, I love these Test matches against the Boks, and our forward pack does, they are games that are won up front. There have been some epic battles over the years, and everything is pointing toward another tomorrow."
Codie Taylor said he was relishing the physical challenge presented by the Springboks.
From Kevin Skinner being called in to sort out the Springboks front row, to Bismarck du Plessis dislocating Dan Carter's shoulder, this storied rivalry tends to leave players with a few extra battle wounds.
Taylor has been named to start against South Africa, with 2022 standout Samisoni Taukei'aho to come off the bench.
Taylor said the All Blacks pack is bracing for a South African side likely to base their game around dominating the tight exchanges.
"Mentally you've got to get yourself into a pretty dark place to be ready for what's coming. At the same time we've made good progress in our forward pack over the last 18 months and we're going to fire a few shots too."
Opposing hooker Bongi Mbonambi concurs.
"The All Blacks always have a massive pack, quality ball carriers and we know it's going to be a tough game. Whenever you play the All Blacks it's always tough and physical."
Taylor also offered high praise to his fellow Crusaders front rower and debutant Tamaiti Williams.
Williams is the only newcomer in the squad and said it was an emotional time for his whānau.
"I called my parents first. Mum just cried, Dad didn't say anything. My fiancee cried too. It's taken time for them to let it soak in, but they're happy."
In other changes, Richie Mo'unga is set to take over the reigns at first five from Damian McKenzie.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster says it was always the plan to swap his first fives following the opening game of the Rugby Championship.
Foster says the plan was always to balance the workloads of both players.
"Both Richie and Damian, I was pretty excited with their form at the end of the Super season, both have had big minutes in Super Rugby, really pleased with Damian, really enjoyed is game, and now it's Richie's turn."
Brodie Retallick, Will Jordan and Mark Telea also return to the starting line up in what appears the strongest XV possible for Foster.
The Springboks have made 10 changes from the side that trounced Australia in Pretoria.
Coach Jacques Nienaber feels he has got a good balance between those players that came to New Zealand early and those who played against the Wallabies.
One of the stars of that rout - and rated among the best players on the planet - Lukhanyo Am said while pleased with his side's performance, it was far from perfect.
"With a couple of changes in the team, we will be looking to take the momentum from last week into this game, but it is a different side this weekend and a different challenge compared to the Aussies."
Am said not having to front the Eden Park cauldron does make things less intimidating.
The Springboks last appeared in the city in 2013 losing 29-15 at Eden Park, while the Boks have not won in Auckland since 1937.
Flanker Kwagga Smith says no matter the venue, tests against the All Blacks are always special.
"As a young kid growing up we would always watch the rugby just like here in New Zealand, I remember atching the haka on TV and my first time facing it was incredible and a memory that will always stick with me."
Kick off at Mount Smart is 7.05pm.