South Africa vs. New Zealand: It is a fixture that always has a special ring to it, and there is plenty hanging on this particular game as well. South Africa need to win if they are going to try to claim the Rugby Championship title this year, while the All Blacks know a home win will almost make it impossible for the Springboks to come through and deny New Zealand.

The All Blacks got quite a shock last week, didn’t they? I’ll be the first to stick my hand up and say I did not expect Argentina to play as well as they did in New Plymouth last weekend. That was one of the best games Argentina has fronted against the All Blacks, and at one point it was almost nail-biting stuff. But it was really good to see the All Blacks finish strongly, the way they traditionally do, and I think there were some real positives to come out of the game.

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Joe Moody had a great game — one of the best I have seen him play — and it’s a real shame that he’s done his shoulder and is out for a while; he really stood up and showed his wares.

Vaea Fifita also showed what a freak he is.

I first came across Vaea when he was 15 years old, when I was down at the International Rugby Academy of New Zealand coaching. Chris Boyd had just taken over as the Wellington Lions provincial coach, and I said to him, “You have got this young kid here who is really talented, keep your eye on him”. And sure enough, it is great to see the way he has progressed.

Vaea’s athleticism at that early age impressed me. He would burst out of rucks and take off. Back then, he was running like the wind. But his try against the Pumas on Saturday just said to me, “Right, I am going to throw caution to the wind because someone’s got to do something here”. The All Blacks must have realised their backs were against the wall with Beauden Barrett in the sin-bin. Someone needed to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and it was a case of each person just having a crack. His speed was just outstanding.

Nepo Laulala also was good, again. For Joe Moody to operate as well as he did, he had to have a good tighthead; Laulala took a lot of the pressure from Agustin Creevy and the scrum, which allowed Moody to butcher his tighthead; that was a real positive out of the game.

But I do say that as a country we in New Zealand too often look at the negatives. When you win a game and people look at the negatives, rather than appreciating the win, it is disappointing. That takes away from what Argentina contributed to the game. They deserve full credit for what they brought.

Meanwhile, it has been great to see the All Blacks rallying around Beauden Barrett. Players from time to time don’t hit the mark, and he is copping criticism for his goal-kicking, but he brings so much to the game with his try-scoring ability, his speed, the way he takes the line on and his vision; but he’s not allowed to miss a kick from time to time. He had one kick that was a bit of a duff, but really people need to get over it.

It is worth remembering also that newer players were being given opportunities in New Plymouth, and there is a bigger picture here. You don’t win a Rugby World Cup just by turning up; you have to do the hard work years earlier.

I for one was critical of Argentina beforehand, thinking the game was going to be a dead rubber and a walkover, but it was a Test match in the real sense of the word and it has brought the whole Championship to life. No-one wants to see teams winning by 40-50 points and the game being a foregone conclusion.

So that brings us to South Africa this week.

The All Blacks’ opponents now are seeing the perception of a little bit of vulnerability, and the South Africans will be licking their lips and thinking, “I don’t think this New Zealand team is all that far ahead of us”. And who knows? But I’ll still back the All Blacks.

Rugby is a state of mind, and your mind being in the right place is a big help. Steve Hansen will have looked at the Pumas game and he will be grumpy, I’m sure. There will be a lot of things he won’t be pleased with. Eradicating the errors and getting them out of the game is the key. If you do your job, and everyone else does theirs, win or lose, then the result is a by-product of that.

The All Blacks will be looking to speed up their clearing of the ball from the breakdown. Slower ball allows the defence to get organised. But if you are to clear that area, you have got to create go-forward. You’ve got to take the opposition back off the line.

When the All Blacks get quick ball, and Aaron Smith is just humming and moving that ball, they get teams in trouble defensively.

T.J. Perenara was an ideal player at halfback against Argentina. He’s more confrontational and snipes around the breakdown, but Smith is just lightning and allows the All Blacks to play at a pace where teams can’t stick with them.

That will be the focus against South Africa. Run the Springboks’ big men around, play a high-tempo game with physicality from time to time. You pick and choose what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. That was missing against Argentina.

South Africa are looking good, and they are a side that can really test the All Blacks at the weekend. It’s going to be a great Test match. They’ve gone from strength to strength, and it’s good to see they’ve had faith in Allister Coetzee and stuck with him. Last year, for whatever reason, wasn’t brilliant but the team this year has been playing some really good rugby.

Elton Jantjies has picked his game up. He was a little fragile last year. He had a good season with the Lions and went into the Springboks team then lost his nerve a little bit. But he’s a year more experienced this season and a better player for it. He’s had another good year with the Lions and it carries through; rugby is confidence as much as state of mind.

The Springboks have a relatively young backline. I know they’ve been there for a while, but they’re getting better; again it’s not just Jantjies, it’s everyone. The more you play together at the top level the better you are going to get.

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