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Rugby | Springboks

Steve Hansen © Gallo Images

Boks still NZ's greatest rivals - All Blacks



All Black legends have come out and reminded the New Zealand public that they still consider the Springboks their greatest rivals in modern rugby, despite the Boks' patchy record since readmission.

While the All Blacks had to wait until 1996 to win a series in South Africa, in the professional era they have won regularly in the battle between the two teams and have currently won five out of the last six games against the Springboks.

But a Bok resurgence under Heyneke Meyer sets the scene for an interesting showdown at Eden Park on Saturday night, and the emphatic nature of South Africa's victory in Brisbane has woken the All Blacks up as to the challenge they will face this weekend.

Australia has a better record against the All Blacks than the Boks, and All Black coach Steve Hansen made the assertion a few weeks ago that this was their most important rivalry.

Hansen told reporters that winning the Bledisloe Cup was more important than winning the Rugby Championship.

“The Bledisloe ranks just behind the World Cup, it's something special and we know it's special to the Australians so we're expecting a hell of a battle tomorrow night,” he said.

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But surely, with the current state of the Australian side, Hansen's claim cannot be taken too seriously.

Andy Haden and Colin “Pinetree” Meads, two of the greats of the game, have come out strongly to remind the Kiwis how strong the rivalry with the Springboks must be.

The All Blacks' regular success against the Boks in the professional era – they have won 35 of the 48 matches played since 1995 – is one match worse than the Wallabies’ record in the same era. Before then the Boks were the only team to have beaten the All Blacks more times than they had been beaten.

All Black great Colin Meads, who toured South Africa in losing campaigns in 1960 and 1970, told the New Zealand Herald that despite the statistic, South Africa remained New Zealand's greatest rival.

"South Africa have always remained our greatest threat because they play a similar game to us, they are big, strong buggers and they knock us around a bit," he told the newspaper.

"They've got some enterprising backs ... and they always seem to have a good halfback and five-eighths around there."

Meads said South Africa had struggled with the transition of rugby becoming more democratic in the Republic "but they are a great side".

Haden, who toured in 1986 with the rebel Cavaliers side, agreed with Meads and added that he believed the All Blacks would win on Saturday but would struggle to win at Ellis Park when the sides meet again next month.

"They're the hardest team to beat but that's at home, they have always been very difficult to beat there.

"In the old days we used to say it's hard to win in South Africa because of their lethal combination - a bent referee and a good goalkicker ... I think the professional era may have taken the referee part of it out."

Haden said the All Blacks' commitment to fitness levels and ball-handling skills among their forwards had probably been the difference between the two sides since the game turned professional.

"South Africa have always had a big, strong forward pack who are great scrummagers.

"They would get a lot of possession and you had to battle like hell to get parity so they would usually have a territorial advantage and that's when their goalkickers came in," he said.

"But the modern game requires big forwards to be good at handling the ball and also the fitness levels of our side haven't been really talked about much - our fitness levels are very high."

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