Canon Rugby in Focus: Richie Mo’unga will play first five and Beaden Barrett fullback against the Boks this weekend. That’s a formation we’ll see in Japan for sure, writes Jim Kayes.

It is one of the most amazing sporting moments and enduring images.

Nelson Mandela, the former political prisoner turned President, decked in a Springbok jersey, handing the Rugby World Cup to skipper Francois Pienaar after the win against the All Blacks at Ellis Park in 1995.

It capped South Africa’s return to the rugby fold and marked another historic moment in a rivalry that kicked off with an All Blacks win in Dunedin in 1921.

They will play again, for the 98th time, in Wellington on Saturday and this time the World Cup is again in the picture, though it sits toward the outside of the frame.

Steve Hansen has shown his hand, and backed up his earlier comments that he is prepared to lose the Rugby Championship to win the World Cup.

It’s why Beauden Barrett is at fullback with Richie Mo’unga at first five and Ben Smith and Reiko Ioane on the wings.

Make no mistake – that’s a combination we will see again in Japan, if not from the start of a test then definitely in the final quarter.

World Cup preparations are also behind TJ Perenara starting, along with Matt Todd and Shannon Frizzell on the flanks and there will be relief for the coaches and player that Sonny Bill Williams will at last play again.

Hold that thought though, because Williams still has to stay uninjured till kick off.

The bench has a World Cup shadow, too, as Hansen continues to use it as a place to blood players and lift the experience of his squad.

He says the All Blacks respect the Springboks and love playing them as they bring “many challenges to the contest”.

First among those challenges is the South Africans’ physicality, a brute force that has served them well before. And they will look to inflict again in Wellington.

They won there last year, and are reasserting themselves as the All Blacks’ toughest foe.

The All Blacks beat England 80 percent of the time, get past France three times out of four, haven’t lost to Wales since 1953, have never been beaten by Scotland and only twice by Ireland.

Australia has a decent record, keeping the All Blacks to a 69 percent win ratio, but the Wallabies best years were in the 1990s and early 2000s.

They haven’t sipped from the Bledisloe Cup since George Gregan passed it to Tana Umaga at Eden Park in 2003.

The haka that roared out of the All Blacks dressing rooms later that evening was noisy from outside the players’ sanctuary; it must have been deafening within.

There is something special about the Bledisloe Cup that defies the history between the two sides.

Australia have beaten the All Blacks only six times in the 41 tests since that night in Auckland. They remain a threat, a decent team, but too often they prove to be poppinjays.

South Africa has played the All Blacks 30 times since then and picked up eight wins – a much better return from a team not given to hyperbole.

And over time the history books tell us the Springboks have been the All Blacks’ toughest test.

Yet the Freedom Cup, contested by these great rivals since 2004, is pushed to the back of the trophy cabinet and gathers dust in the shadow of Lord Bledisloe.

Wikipedia calls the Freedom Cup “a minor trophy” and it’s galling the Wallabies contest the Mandela Cup when they play South Africa.

How did New Zealand Rugby miss out on that? Especially given Mandela’s praise for New Zealand and our anti-Apartheid stance.

The trophy is at stake again on Saturday but that won’t matter much to the players and All Blacks fans.

It’s new, a novelty for now compared to the Bledisloe, which was first contested in 1931 according to Australians, and a year later if you ask New Zealand Rugby.

The Freedom Cup is a wee pup in comparison but, this year, it’s not the only minor matter in the bigger scheme of things.

Hansen wants to win, for sure, but he clearly has his eye on a bigger prize.

The All Blacks open their World Cup defence against South Africa in Yokohama in September.

The winner is almost sure to finish atop their pool and have a favoured route to the final.

That’s more important than a trophy few know about and a test that will be a footnote in history should the All Blacks go on to win the World Cup.

The All Blacks team to play South Africa in the Freedom Cup Investec Rugby Championship Test at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday.

The(Test caps in brackets):

  1. Joe Moody (37)
  2. Codie Taylor (41)
  3. Owen Franks (106)
  4. Brodie Retallick (76)
  5. Samuel Whitelock (108)
  6. Shannon Frizell (4)
  7. Matt Todd (17)
  8. Kieran Read – captain (118)
  9. TJ Perenara (55)
  10. Richie Mo’unga (9)
  11. Rieko Ioane (24)
  12. Sonny Bill Williams (51)
  13. Jack Goodhue (7)
  14. Ben Smith (72)
  15. Beauden Barrett (74)
  16. Dane Coles (61)
  17. Ofa Tuungafasi (26)
  18. Angus Ta’avao (4)
  19. Vaea Fifita (10)
  20. Dalton Papalii (2)
  21. Aaron Smith (83)
  22. Anton Lienert-Brown (34)
  23. George Bridge (1)

The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.

Leave a comment