Herald rugby writers Patrick McKendry, Campbell Burnes and Nigel Yalden answer three key questions ahead of the All Blacks Rugby Championship international against South Africa in Durban.
1. What impact will the Aaron Smith story and his subsequent unavailability have on the All Blacks?
Patrick McKendry: They will be without the speed of pass, feet and thought that Smith brings, but won't lose much with the in-form TJ Perenara there instead. They could also use the circumstances surrounding the fallout of the Smith affair as inspiration. He did wrong but some of the commentary has been over the top and though the All Blacks are in Durban they will be well aware of it.
Campbell Burnes: Very little. Smith didn't play last week and he wasn't going to play this week. TJ Perenara has firmed as a more than able deputy after dropping to No 3 by RWC final time. Smith's pace to the ruck is hard to replicate, but Perenara is far from slow and combines well with Barrett, so the All Blacks will barely need to tweak their plan or style.
Nigel Yalden: Off the field, the senior leadership group, the ones who handed down the one test suspension to Smith, and team management will have worked through and sorted any residual issues to ensure group was back on task as quickly as possible. On field, TJ Perenara's rich vein of form means the drop off from Smith to the next best is nowhere near as significant as it may have been as little as three months ago. The obvious impact is if Perenara or Kerr-Barlow get injured during the walk through or warm up for tomorrow morning's test.
Yes. The All Blacks have said they feel more comfortable at sea level compared with playing somewhere like Johannesburg. That could be a significant factor in the final quarter when the effects of playing at high altitude usually manifest themselves.
The record suggests that the Springboks are still formidable at Durban's sea level. Hell, they are tough to lower anywhere in the Republic. Their lungs will still, though, burn by the 80th minute mark, once they have dealt with the All Blacks' run and gun game.
They are less formidable for a raft of reasons; geographical and topographical location inside their own country does not appear on that list.
3. Are the Springboks still the biggest rivals in All Blacks rugby?
Patrick McKendry: Yes, they are still the old foe. England and Australia go close but the Boks are the originals and it stems from South Africa traditionally being such a tough place to tour. There is genuine respect there. The Poms and Wallabies rarely give that respect so they don't receive it back.
Campbell Burnes: If you are born prior to 1970, the answer will be in the affirmative, but the younger generation look at Australia or France or even England as the All Blacks' biggest rival. For this rugby history buff, however, the Boks are still the toughest team to beat. Witness the RWC semifinal.
Nigel Yalden: Yes they are and that's based on the recent encounters outside of New Zealand and the significant overall rugby history between the nations. The high levels of respect and friendship, again born out of recent tests matches, further reinforces that belief.