All Blacks coach Ian Foster has suggested that while the Springboks will undoubtedly have the crowd very much on their side at Mbombela Stadium on Saturday, that could put the home side under more pressure than the visitors.
Over 40,000 fans will turn out for this weekend’s Rugby Championship encounter between the two old foes – meaning it’s not just the higher altitude that the All Blacks will have to contend with.
Although there were suggestions from one South African journalist that there might be some strong support for the traveling New Zealanders, Foster was unconvinced.
“I’m pretty sure when we go to the stadium it won’t be 46,000 South Africans cheering for us,” he replied dryly.
“They’ve got two home games; there’s a bit of pressure on them with home games but that’s the way the draw is. Quite frankly, when it’s us [against] South Africa, I don’t care where the game is being played.
“We’ve got massive respect for each other, I think, and we know you’ve got to be at your best to do well at it.”
A change in format for the Rugby Championship will see each team undertake one two-match tour to one of their opposition and in the All Blacks’ case, that means playing Mbombela this weekend and Johannesburg the next.
While that poses a sizeable challenge for the touring New Zealanders, it also provides the All Blacks with a great opportunity to provide an emphatic statement having started off the year with a series loss to Ireland in NZ.
Still, the All Blacks certainly aren’t expecting a welcoming crowd at Mbombela Stadium.
“We’re anticipating a pretty hostile environment,” said second-rower Scott Barrett. “If there are All Blacks supporters there, that’s a bonus for us [but] we’re anticipating a vocal 40-odd thousand South African supporters at home so that’s what we’re getting excited for.”
Although the All Blacks’ recent run of form has been less than impressive, they do boast strong results against the South Africans, winning 10 of the last 12 encounters between the two superpowers. In fact, the Springboks haven’t claimed a win over the All Blacks in South Africa since 2014. Recent results will count for little on Saturday night, according to Barrett.
“I think regardless of historical results, the Freedom Cup’s on the line, both teams are going to be gunning for a full 80[-minute] performance they can be proud of,” he said.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge and we’re excited by that, regardless of pressures. There’s going to be pressures on both sides and whoever can exert the most will probably get the result.”
This Saturday’s clash between the Springboks and All Blacks is set to kick off at 5:05pm SAST from Mbombela.
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