Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
New Zealand coach Graham Henry remained convinced his team were on the right track despite being given a reminder of a recurring Rugby World Cup nightmare when a second-string side were beaten 18-5 by South Africa in a Tri-Nations Test at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium this weekend.
The All Blacks played most of the attacking rugby on Saturday, but struggled to break down a ferocious Springbok defence and were kicked to defeat by South African fly-half Morne Steyn, who landed five penalties and a drop goal.
New Zealand, who host next month's World Cup, have not won rugby union's biggest prize since the inaugural event, also in New Zealand, in 1987. Since then their expansive style of play has fallen short despite the All Blacks being regarded by most pundits as the world's leading team.
By contrast, South Africa have twice won the World Cup - and on both occasions did so without scoring a try in the final, including a 15-12 extra-time victory against New Zealand in 1995. It has become a common mantra that solid defence wins World Cups.
Henry paid tribute to South Africa's scrambling defence and physicality, but implied that the result might have been different if some of his team's established stars had been in action. Nine leading All Blacks stayed at home to rest ahead of the World Cup.
Asked by a journalist whether the All Blacks were playing the right style of rugby to win a World Cup, Henry responded: "The game that we are playing has got distinct possibilities."
"We created a lot of opportunities to do the business. There were two blue-chip opportunities in the first 20 minutes where we were five metres short or one more pass may have created a different situation at the end of the game," he said.
"There are one or two other guys coming in with a lot more experience who may have settled it down and turned those opportunities into points."
New Zealand could only cross the South African line once, when centre Richard Kahui scored a first-half try.
"We were a bit frenetic at times," said Henry. "We played the game at high pace and probably needed to settle it down a bit. We had a lot of young guys who hadn't played a lot of Test matches. When they've played a few more Test matches or have older heads around them we would be a bit more settled."
It was an encouraging win for the Springboks, who have tried to keep the core of their 2007 World Cup-winning squad together. Eleven of the players who were involved Saturday were in the match 22 for the 2007 final when South Africa beat England 15-6 in Paris.
South African coach Peter de Villiers said the Springboks had shown their character - as well as performing the basics of scrumming, line-out work, kick-offs and defence.
He shrugged off concern that the Springboks had not scored a try in two successive home Tri-Nations matches.
"There are no bonus points in World Cups. I am confident this team can reach its goal."
South Africa played the first hour of the match without regular captain John Smit, with lock Victor Matfield leading the side and Bismarck du Plessis having a storming game as hooker in Smit's place.
De Villiers said he saw having two strong captains as a positive.
"I trust both of them. I know their abilities and I know how they can read a game. Both of them are technically and tactically very sound. I think we are in a better position than we were a few years back."
Both countries name their World Cup squads on Tuesday.
Date: Sunday, August 21
Kick Off: 1am (AEST)
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Assistant Referees: TBA
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South Africa dropped veteran captain John Smit to the bench on Tuesday amid five changes to its starting line-up for Saturday's Castrol Edge Tri-Nations Test against defending champions New Zealand.
Smit was replaced by Bismarck du Plessis, while lock Victor Matfield will captain the team for the 16th time in his 107th Test.
Fullback Patrick Lambie, flyhalf Morne Steyn, flanker Willem Alberts and prop Gurthro Steenkamp were also called into the 15 for the Springboks' final game before the start of their World Cup defence next month.
South Africa is 0-3 in this year's Castrol Edge Tri-Nations and in danger of going through the tournament winless for the first time, with this weekend being the last chance for the defending World Champions to register a win after two failed attempts against the Qantas Wallabies and an away loss to the world's number one side.
Butch James, Danie Rossouw, Tendai Mtawarira and Smit - who all started in last weekend's 14-9 defeat by Australia - were named on the bench by under-fire coach Peter de Villiers.
Lambie replaces Francois Steyn, who was ruled out against the world No.1-ranked All Blacks in Port Elizabeth with a hamstring injury.
Steyn was slow in his Test comeback last weekend against Australia, however showed his abilities with his feet were far from fading after two seasons in French Rugby. Steyn nailed the opening penalty to put the 'Boks ahead by three and narrowly missed a drop-goal attempt from over 50m out in the first half.
Steyn's defence was in question throughout the whole match, as it has been in seasons past, with Qantas Wallabies whiz-kid James O'Connor dancing around the fullback to put inside centre Pat McCabe through for the only try of the match.
Smit left the field against the Wallabies with an elbow injury and was also struggling with a cold before the All Blacks Test. De Villiers said it was always part of the Boks' World Cup planning to rest the 34-year-old hooker for the final game of the Castrol Edge Tri-Nations after he started all three previous matches.
"This is our last chance to look at certain combinations before the Rugby World Cup," De Villiers said. "We've had these changes in mind since we started our planning for the international season, depending on the injury situation."
Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis and Steenkamp make their first starts of the year. In changes to the bench, loose forward Ashley Johnson and prop CJ van der Linde were called in after missing out against Australia. Jean Deysel and Gerhard Mostert were dropped from the 22.
South Africa's defeat to the Wallabies in Durban was the under-fire world champion's eighth loss in their past nine Tri-Nations matches.
South Africa (15-1): Patrick Lambie, JP Pietersen, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Willem Alberts, Heinrich Brussow, Victor Matfield (capt), Bakkies Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp.
Reserves (16-22): John Smit, Tendai Mtawarira, CJ van der Linde, Danie Rossouw, Ashley Johnson, Francois Hougaard, Butch James.
New Zealand (15-1): Israel Dagg, Isaia Toeava, Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Jimmy Cowan, Liam Messam, Adam Thomson, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Sam Whitelock, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu (c), Tony Woodcock
Reserves (16-22): Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Jarrad Hoeata, Victor Vito, Andy Ellis, Piri Weepu, Cory Jane
• This is the first Castrol Edge Tri-Nations Test match in Port Elizabeth.
• South Africa’s record against New Zealand is: Played 82; Won 33; Lost 46; Drawn 3; Points for 1 268; Points against 1 554; Tries for 125; Tries against 161; Average score 15-19.
• South Africa’s Castrol Edge Tri-Nations record against New Zealand is: Played 35; Won 10; Lost 25; Points for 685; Points against 987; Tries for 62; Tries against 93. Average score 20-28.
• South Africa’s home record in the Castrol Edge Tri-Nations against New Zealand is: Played 17; Won 7; Lost 10; Points for 391; Points against 474; Tries for 36; Tries against 45. Average score 23-28.
• Victor Matfield makes 111th appearance in the Springbok jersey to equal the record of Joost van der Westhuizen. Matfield extends the following records: Most capped Springbok and lock to 107 caps; most capped Springbok against New Zealand to 24 and also most capped Springbok in the Castrol Edge Tri-Nations to 43 appearances.
• Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers extend their record for most Springbok appearances as a centre pairing in the starting line-up in tests to 24.
• Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha will extend their World Record for most appearances as a lock combination in the starting line-up to 62.
• Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis will appear in their sixteenth test together as brothers, eight more Tests than Carel and Michael du Plessis between 1984 and 1989.
• The following players will extend their Springbok records as follows: Bryan Habana – 69th test as wing; Jean de Villiers – 55th test as centre.
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