Hansen wants South Africa trip to provide 'answers' about fringe men
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen highlighted the importance of today's Rugby Championship game against South Africa at Ellis Park by saying: "There is no better place than Johannesburg to get answers about players."
The All Blacks have lost only twice since winning the World Cup in 2011, one of those defeats coming 12 months ago at the intimidating, seething downtown Ellis Park, where South Africa lifted the World Cup in 1995.
And even though the Springboks let slip a 13-point lead to lose to Australia last weekend in Brisbane, there is little doubt that they see the potential uplift for their World Cup prospects that victory over the defending champions would bring.
They must win to stay in contention for this year's shortened Rugby Championship.
"The World Cup is getting closer and we want to win as many games as possible to get momentum," said stand-in Springboks captain Schalk Burger, who was fighting for his life only two years ago after contracting a virus and yet finds himself leading his country for the first time after injuries to Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield.
Burger forms part of a reconstituted back-row unit, his powerful frame flanked by two out-and-out opensides in Francois Louw and Heinrich Brüssow, recalled for the first time in four years as the Boks look to curtail the influence of Richie McCaw in the loose.
"It is a gamble and you do lose a little bit in the line-out but the pair of them can cause havoc and I believe that the game will be won or lost at the breakdown," said coach Heyneke Meyer of his selections in the back row.
Such is their strength in depth the All Blacks can rarely be accused of fielding an experimental team and even though Hansen (left) has made seven changes to the side who beat Argentina 39-18 on the opening weekend the world champions carry with them an air of authority.
There are two rookies pitched into the fray, Highlanders fly-half Lima Sopoaga and Hurricanes lock James Broadhurst.
"We have to develop combinations and permutations because if players are injured in a World Cup, they are out," said Hansen. "There is no better place than Johannesburg to get answers about players."
In today's other game, Argentina wing Gonzalo Camacho makes his international comeback after three shoulder operations in two years when they face Australia in Mendoza.
Australia coach Michael Cheika has made seven changes, bringing Bernard Foley back at out-half and giving David Pocock the start at openside flanker. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
South Africa v New Zealand,
Live, Sky Sports 1, 4.05pm
Argentina v Australia,
Live, Sky Sports 3, 11.40pm