15 Sep 2017

All Blacks face Springbok litmus test

4:01 pm on 15 September 2017

The All Blacks are bracing for their biggest challenge of the Rugby Championship so far - taking on the resurgent Springboks in tomorrow 's top-of-the-table clash in Albany.

Springboks celebrate a try against Australia

Springboks celebrate a try against Australia. Photo: Photosport

At the start of the international season Springbok rugby was at an all time low

The 2016 season had been the worst in South Africa's history. They'd won just four of their twelve games, were humbled by their heaviest defeat to New Zealand in 95 years, and didn't win a single test away from home.

The Springboks fell to their first ever home defeat to Ireland and first ever loss to Argentina in South America. Fast forward, and they're now nipping at the heels of the unbeaten All Blacks in the Rugby Championship standings, following two big wins over the Pumas and last week's draw with Australia.

Springboks coach Allister Coetzee says it's always a big battle when they clash with the All Blacks, and tonight will be no different.

South Africa coach Allister Coetzee. Photo: Photosport

Coach Allister Coetzee, who kept his job despite his dismal first year in charge, believes 2017 has been a new beginning for Springbok rugby.

"The big thing is the team environment has changed completely. The big factor was the time that we could spend together. We've had some proper training camps this year."

The players were a much more unified band of brothers and that was reflected on the field, he said.

All Blacks player Julian Savea celebrates a try. vs South Africa Springboks Christchurch AMI stadium 17/09/16

Julian Savea scores against the Springboks, in 2016. Photo: Photosport

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen shares the sentiment.

"They seem to be incredibly tight with each other so they're obviously building something there from a cultural point of view and that will make them more dangerous.

"They've changed their attack coach, they've changed their defence coach so there's two new people in there doing pretty good work by the look of it."

South Africa will face the All Blacks in the pool stage for the first time in a blockbuster clash.

All Blacks vs South Africa. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Albany is the most South African corner of the country; the braai will be burning on Saturday night with Springbok supporters heading to the test en masse.

Coetzee is grateful for the expat energy, but knows anything less than a near perfect performance will result in defeat.

"You always know in the last 20 minutes they score at least 20 plus points, so you've got to play and be at your best for the full 80 minutes."

All Black Ben Smith breaks free of Juan de Jongh in record win

Ben Smith on the run against the Springboks. Photo: Photosport

The respect is mutual, with All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster describing the game as the teams' Blacks biggest test of 2017.

"Your mind conjures up some of the great games of the past and the great rivalries and this is no different. For us this is a pretty special game.

"You've got to take the hat off to the way they've rebounded from last year and just changed quite dramatically within a very short time period. Clearly they've got a youthful team that really look like they want to play with each other and that's a dangerous beast."

If the All Blacks can tame the beast in Albany, they'll all but quash any hopes the others had of knocking them off their Rugby Championship throne.

- RNZ

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