New Zealand captain Richie McCaw recovered from a knee injury in time to lead the All Blacks in this weekend’s Rugby Championship decider against South Africa.
McCaw, who missed the past two All Blacks matches, returns at openside flanker for the Oct. 5 game in Johannesburg in one of two changes to the starting lineup. Charlie Faumuina takes over from the injured Owen Franks at tighthead prop, while Dane Coles comes onto the bench as reserve hooker.
Top-ranked New Zealand would secure its second straight sweep of the southern hemisphere championship by winning at Ellis Park, where it has three victories in 11 previous meetings with the Springboks. South Africa must secure the maximum five competition points to have any chance of snatching the title.
“The South Africans will come at us with their physical game but to win the championship they will have to do that by scoring four tries so we are expecting more ball movement than we have seen in the past,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said in a statement. “The answer is pretty simple for us: we will have to match their physicality and be very accurate with our execution across the park, both on attack and defensively.”
South Africa beat Australia 28-8 last week to set up the title decider between the top two teams in the International Rugby Board rankings. New Zealand takes a five-point lead atop the standings into the final round after Ben Smith’s last-minute try secured a bonus point in a 33-15 win in Argentina.
To win the championship, the Springboks must score at least four tries, win by eight or more points and limit New Zealand to fewer than four tries. The last time the All Blacks allowed four tries was Oct. 30, 2010, against Australia in Hong Kong.
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer yesterday made two starting changes. Juandre Kruger replaces suspended lock Flip van der Merwe, while Bismarck du Plessis, who was wrongly shown the red card in the Springboks’ 29-15 loss in New Zealand on Sept. 14, comes in for Adriaan Strauss at hooker.
Outside center JJ Engelbrecht is in doubt because of a quad muscle injury and will be replaced by Jan Serfontein in the starting team if he isn’t fit.
“We will give JJ all the time he needs to fully recover,” Meyer said in a team statement.
NEW ZEALAND: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Samuel Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Steven Luatua, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.
SOUTH AFRICA: Zane Kirchner, Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht/Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Morne Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Franco van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Ruan Pienaar, Pat Lambie, Jan Serfontein/Juan de Jongh.