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The sound of a tightly spinning ball whistling through the air before it slapped into a massive hand resonated as the All Blacks completed their preparations yesterday for their Rugby Championship clash against South Africa.
From the hip, with a flick of the wrists, and back and forth — prop Ofa Tuungafasi and lock Patrick Tuipulotu demonstrated the ball-handling skills of the team’s tight forwards that make them the envy of world rugby and have propelled the All Blacks to within sight of their third successive Rugby Championship title.
The world champion has recorded three bonus-point wins so far, running in 18 tries, one of which scored by lock Brodie Retallick — who dummied and stepped inside Wallaby first five-eighth Bernard Foley in a 35m run in their 38-13 victory in the first match — has become a YouTube highlight.
Kieran Read’s side has 15 competition points as a result of the victories and can sew up the title if it can gain a bonus-point win over South Africa at Westpac Stadium tonight.
The Springboks, who have lost their past two games, have six points, while Australia and Argentina, which play tonight on the Gold Coast, sit on four.
"There’s something pretty big at the end of the day if we get it right around the Rugby Championship so that is in our sights," Read said at the conclusion of the team’s final training run.
"It is a focus of ours to win the championship and we would love to do it in four games. But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We know the challenge the Springboks present but we have the opportunity to do it if we perform on Saturday."
The Springboks, who began the competition promisingly with a 34-21 victory over the Pumas, were thrashed by Mario Ledesma’s side 32-19 the following week in Mendoza.
They then bumbled their way through a 23-18 loss to the Wallabies last week in Brisbane.
After 112 tests — 18 of them against South Africa and a veteran of the 25-24 victory in Cape Town last year after the All Blacks had won 57-0 three weeks earlier — Read, however, knows how a wounded Springbok reacts.
Consequently he has warned his side to dismiss any complacency and to think how they would play if they had lost two games.
"They haven’t had some of the results go their way but every time they put that jersey on and run out they have so much pride in their national team," Read added.
"So you know they’ll be bouncing back. If we were in that situation we’d know how we’d react."
- Greg Stutchbury
All Blacks v Springboks
All Blacks: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Sam Cane, Liam Squire, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Tim Perry, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams, Damian McKenzie.
Springboks: Willie Le Roux, Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff. Res: Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Wilco Louw, RG Snyman, Francois Louw, Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjes, Cheslin Kolbe.