Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and hooker Bongi Mbonambi made it clear on Friday that they expected a massive battle against the All Blacks at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland on Saturday in the second round of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, but they said they were ready for the challenge.
The Springbok team were hit by the tragic passing of captain Eben Etzebeth’s father this week, and Stick said they would not only be playing for the country, but also for their team-mate.
“We’ve prepared as well as we could for a massive game,” said Stick. “Eben’s loss is also our loss because we are a family, and as a team we’d like to be there for one another.
“We also lost Jaden Hendricks’ father before we left South Africa, so as a team we’d like to be as supportive as we can.”
Stick added: “Eben made the choice to play this weekend, and I’d like to think that he’ll be doing it for his father. If he plays for his dad, it doesn’t get bigger than facing the All Blacks, but from a team perspective, we always ensure that we perform as well as we can.”
Mbonambi anticipated a huge forward battle, but he said the Springboks were aligned and ready to for the challenge, despite several players only arriving at the team hotel in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
“It’s always difficult playing against a fully loaded New Zealand team,” said Mbonambi. “They are a good scrummaging team, and we saw how they performed against Argentina, so we have to be up for it.”
Commenting on their preparation for the match, the physical front-rower said: “The game against Australia was a good start for us, but we quickly put that behind us because we have another big challenge this week. It was smooth sailing all the way here, and when we landed, we got down to training.
“Fortunately, all the planning was done when we touched down, so we just had to slot in, and as a team we’re aligned.”
Stick also expected a big test from the hosts, saying: “If we want to beat the All Blacks, there’s no doubt that we have to stand up to them physically, and also cope with their high-tempo game for the full 80-minutes. It is also vital that when we create opportunities, we have to use them.”
Of the possibility of defeating New Zealand in Auckland for the first time since 1937, Stick said: “It’s the first time I hear about that. It would be special for the boys, but it isn’t something we’ve been thinking about.
“As a team we spoke about facing the All Blacks at home. Some of us were part of the team that won in Wellington in 2018, but this is a new match, and we know the history between the teams is massive.”
With the teams set to line up against one another at a new venue, Mount Smart Stadium, for the first time, Stick said he was pleasantly surprised with the stadium.
“We were actually surprised when we got to the field after everything we heard about it,” said Stick. “It’s a nice pitch and stadium.
“In South Africa we’ve been to Welkom, Brakpan and Kimberley at stages in our careers, so we are used to very tough fields. After what we saw today, I don’t think the stadium will make a massive difference.”
The match kicks off at 09h05 (SA time) on Saturday and will be broadcast live on SuperSport.