Long-term All Blacks assistant Ian Foster had been announced as the All Blacks’ new coach, replacing Steve Hansen.
Nine long winters have passed since the Springboks edged the All Blacks at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton.
The men in green and gold walked off the paddock victorious that September evening in 2009, in what would be their last victory on the shores of New Zealand under the nation’s next two coaches.
After the Boks’ performance at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane last Saturday, it’s difficult to foresee a South African victory this coming Saturday.
The dark cloud that continues to hang over their camp darkened even further with news that Duane Vermeulen left the field with a hamstring injury playing for his Japanese side, the Kubota Spears, last Saturday. According to reports, Vermeulen had been given permission to join the Boks in New Zealand had coach Rassie Erasmus called him up.
Yet, despite an almost decade-long drought, the buildup of a clash between these two storied sides always stirs up nostalgia.
Schoolboys camping overnight for tickets alongside a concrete behemoth that served as the Newlands grandstand on Boundary Road during the 1976 All Black tour, or sitting next to a Frenchman at Millennium stadium in 2007, as he belted out La Marseillaise with such reverence that his performance preordained France’s victory against the All Blacks some 80 minutes later.
The soothsayers, the historians, the controversialists, the nostalgics and the pundits will all have their say leading up to game time, but for the coaches, the past is inconsequential.
Steve Hansen knows that even with Brodie Retallick out with a shoulder injury, the duo of Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett are significantly menacing. Erasmus knows that with Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert he arguably has the best locks to disrupt them.
Hansen knows Beauden Barrett, on a nominal evening’s performance, can be the match decider. But he also knows that on a brilliant day, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Warren Whiteley can nullify Barrett’s performance.
Both coaches will instill the one fact cannot be disputed: that at kickoff, the score is tied.
History will once again be played out. With the anthems done, the All Blacks will make their way to midfield and line up for the Haka. Over 34,000 of Westpac Stadium’s faithful will rise in anticipation. The Springboks will face the challenge.
TJ Perenara will be predicted to throw down the Kapa o Pango and at precisely 7:35pm (New Zealand time), Nigel Owens will blow his whistle to kick off the 96th Test between these two rugby titans.
The nostalgics, right about then, will feel compelled to remind us all that it was also Nigel Owens who refereed a particular September evening match nine long winters ago in Hamilton.