Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Bracing for uproar at South Africa's own House of Pain

Ellis Park will be a new and tumultuous experience for most of the All Blacks

Ellis Park Stadium, South Africa. Photo / Getty Images
Ellis Park Stadium, South Africa. Photo / Getty Images

Trips to Ellis Park have not registered well on the All Blacks results chart.

They're well down, in fact, but if there is any truth in the saying about defeat delivering more education than victory, the All Blacks have left Johannesburg with their kit full of new ideas.

It is nine years since they last took the congested journey to the famous ground in one of Johannesburg's less endearing suburbs.

A police escort will clear some of the congestion but the All Blacks will disembark to a cacophonous jeering.

It will be a new test experience for all but Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu who faced that tumult in 2004. Those experienced hookers have been talking to the squad about what to expect and how to blot out all the distractions.

That discussion will help but the occasion will astound a few of them.

Richie McCaw has recovered from his knee injury to captain the side in his 120th test appearance - but his first at the famous arena - and Charlie Faumuina replaces the unfit Owen Franks at tighthead prop.

Those switches mean Sam Cane, Dane Coles and Ben Franks are in the reserves with Jeremy Thrush and Mealamu making way.

"We know the South Africans will come at us with their physical game, but to win the championship they will have to score four tries so we are expecting more ball movement than we have seen in the past," All Black coach Steve Hansen said.

"So the answer is simple for us - we will have to match their physicality and be very accurate with our execution across the park, both on attack and defensively."

The sides met three weeks ago at Eden Park, but the powerful backdrop of curiosity over how they'd stack up was slashed when Bismarck du Plessis was sinbinned twice and sent from the field.

Referee Romaine Poite admitted later he erred in his initial decision to punish the Bok hooker for a tackle on Daniel Carter.

The All Blacks were not about to let the issue drop though, Hansen suggesting du Plessis was fortunate to get away with a yellow for leading into a tackle with his forearm.

A similar offence by Bok lock Flip van der Merwe last week against the Wallabies means he will miss this Rugby Championship decider.

The hooking roles have been reversed with du Plessis to start and Adriaan Strauss on the bench.

While the rugby world is thirsting for a blockbuster contest on Sunday between the two top-ranked sides in the world, such expectation is often not matched with performance.

However the duel has persuaded England coach Stuart Lancaster to fly to Johannesburg to watch the match live, so he can get a better perspective on players and ideas before his side's rematch with the All Blacks at Twickenham on November 16.

He will not have to concentrate on Conrad Smith who is bypassing that trip. There has also been a similar vibe about Hore's plans.

All Blacks' bogey grounds
Stadiums where they have been least successful against the home side (five tests or more)

1. Ellis Park Johannesburg
Played 11, won 3 - 37.27% succcess rate

2. Allianz Stadium (SFS)
Played 6, won 2 - 33.33% success rate

3. Kings Park, Durban
Played 6, won 3 - 50% success rate

4. ANZ Stadium (Homebush)
Played 13, won 7 - 53.84% success rate

5. Sydney Cricket Ground
Played 27, won 18 - 64.28% success rate

- NZ Herald

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