AAP Rugby

RWC heavyweights ready for cagey clash

By AAP Newswire

New Zealand's encounter with South Africa in Yokohama may have little influence on the heavyweight's progression to the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup, but is a chance for both to lay down a major marker in Japan.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has dismissed the idea that his side are more vulnerable than the winning teams of 2011 and 2015, while the Springboks will be eager to prove their title credentials to those that doubt their ability to put together a consist run of wins over top nations.

It is the start of a seven-match slog to the final on November 2, and while Hansen will not read too much into a defeat for either side on Saturday, he knows it would raise more questions and doubts about his team.

"If South Africa or ourselves get beaten, you can either roll over and say, 'We can't win it (the trophy)', or you say, 'We have to win all our (six remaining) games from here on in'. It's a long tournament, a marathon and not a sprint," he told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday.

Hansen provided few selection surprises, with Richie Mo'unga retaining the No.10 jersey and Ardie Savea staying on the blindside flank.

The loss of lock Brodie Retallick to injury is a blow, but that has been countered by the return to fitness of inside centre Ryan Crotty, who is preferred to Sonny Bill Williams.

South Africa are unbeaten in 2019 and claimed the Rugby Championship title for the first time in a decade, in part thanks to a 16-16 draw with the All Blacks in Wellington in July.

That is part of a tight recent run between the sides that has seen just two points separating them on aggregate in their last four meetings.

And Bok coach Rassie Erasmus believes a 57-0 hammering at the hands of the All Blacks in 2016 was the turning point for the team in their rise to World Cup contenders.

"Getting smashed 57-0 was really low for us and we had to hit rock bottom to start building up and getting respect back in world rugby," he said.

"It will be very sad if we lose on Saturday but it's not the end and then the Italy game becomes really important to come out of the pool."

With Italy, Namibia and Canada also in Pool B, the reigning world champions and a resurgent Boks are heavily favoured to be the top two in the group, whatever happens in their opener.