Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Geared up for Boks face-off

Savea's strong recent showing not enough to win place against Springboks.

Hosea Gear has been given a chance to make his mark when the All Blacks play South Africa in Soweto this weekend. Photo / Getty Images
Hosea Gear has been given a chance to make his mark when the All Blacks play South Africa in Soweto this weekend. Photo / Getty Images

Scoring tries and ramping up your performance is no guarantee of All Black selection, as Julian Savea has discovered.

The left wing is one of two casualties - the other is Luke Romano - in the side picked for the last Rugby Championship match on Sunday with the Springboks.

In their place Hosea Gear and Brodie Retallick have been given a chance to make their mark.

The All Blacks have secured their new trophy but have other targets in their sights as they set themselves for their next task in Soweto.

After another lengthy flight from Argentina, dealing with jetlag recovery and assessing their opponents, the selectors kept their senior troops and swapped a couple of the developing test players. Savea scored twice in a strong showing in the last test against the Pumas but that impact will not give him a run this weekend.

The All Blacks have also switched their reserves with Ben Franks, Adam Thomson and Tamati Ellison coming in for Charlie Faumuina, Sam Cane and Ben Smith.

"We are in no doubt how big the challenge is for the team this weekend but it is one we are looking forward to as it will be a real test of our resolve and character," coach Steve Hansen said. "South Africa are coming off a big win against Australia and will be playing in front of their home crowd at Soweto so it's going to be a huge test match."

The sides have met once before at Soweto, in 2010, when Richie McCaw and Israel Dagg scored in the last few minutes to take the test from the Springboks in John Smit's 100th test.

A year ago, the All Blacks were well dusted at Port Elizabeth, as the rundown to the World Cup closed.

Now they are on a 15-win run with this test probably the toughest they will have until Wales and England on their end-of-year tour.

If they can get past an unchanged South African side this weekend, then the tier one teams' victorious stretch of 17 internationals will beckon.

Gear's promotion will pit him against the dynamic Bryan Habana while Retallick will pair up with Sam Whitelock for a scrap with Andries Bekker's height and Eben Etzebeth's exuberant power.

The Boks beat the Wallabies last week at altitude and will be better attuned to conditions at the Soccer City stadium than the All Blacks.

But Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has warned that those advantages and the support of 93,000 spectators will work only if they reduce their errors for the sides' repeat clash.

"It's a great stadium and it's great to be on the high veld, that helps," he said. "But the All Blacks are a quality side, they know how to win even when they don't play well.

"If we're going to beat them, we have to kick at an 80 per cent-plus success rate, we have to convert our pressure into points, defend unbelievably and take every chance. The players have to pitch up, be mentally strong and physically tough."

Sounds just like the demands Hansen will deliver as he and his squad stare down their greatest challenge of the year.


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