All Blacks openside flanker Matt Todd says he was doubtful he would ever get the opportunity to start a test match in the number seven jersey for the All Blacks.
The 28-year-old Cantabrian will start for the first time in his four-test career after being named in Steve Hansen's starting XV last night.
After coming off the bench to make his international debut against France in a 24-9 victory in New Plymouth in 2013, Todd has constantly faced stiff competition to secure a starting role at openside flanker for both the All Blacks and at Super Rugby level for the Crusaders, due to the presence of former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
Although the retirement of the 148-test legend at the conclusion of the 2015 season has eased Todd's competition for a starting position at the Crusaders, he has still had to face an uphill battle to feature in the matchday 23 for the national side, with the likes of Sam Cane and Ardie Savea alternating between starting and bench roles for a majority of All Blacks tests this season.
"I guess you never say never, but maybe I did start to doubt I'd ever get this opportunity," Todd said.
"But it's funny how rugby unfolds, with injuries and what not come your way, so you've just got to keep working hard and be ready to take your opportunity when it arises."
Taking his opportunity this weekend will be hugely important for Todd, who is capitalising on the injury Cane picked up in the 57-22 victory over Argentina in Hamilton last month, and the All Blacks selectors decision to keep Savea 'fresh' ahead of the end of year tour.
In just the fifth match of his international career, a good performance by Todd this weekend would see him put pressure on the All Blacks selectors to give him game time ahead of both Cane and Savea against Australia in the final Bledisloe Cup match of the year in Auckland in a fortnight, as well as to include him in the 34-man squad to travel to Chicago, Rome, Dublin and Paris on the end-of-year tour next month.
Todd commented on the number of fellow Canterbury and Crusaders players in the starting forward pack, noting the smoother transition it provides for someone who is coming into the starting line up.
"Having played alongside a lot of those guys, it does make it easier," Todd said.
"It's so familiar with them and know how they play and know their game and what they do."
Todd said the All Blacks will look to counter the South African forwards' size and physicality around the breakdown and collision area come game time on Sunday morning (NZT).
"They're very good, like Francois Louw, very good player over the ball. They're big men and they're physical, they look to win the collision, get two in the tackle and hold you up there, or just use their size to dominate that breakdown area, that collision area.
"So we've got to be good there, that's a massive part of the game. You win the breakdown and that goes a long way to winning the game, so we've got to be on our job there and accurate defensively and on attack."