WELLINGTON (AFP) – The Springboks landed in Auckland Monday for "the ultimate challenge" against the All Blacks next weekend, claiming they remain the underdogs despite New Zealand losing talismanic skipper Richie McCaw.
Saturday's clash between the two unbeaten sides in the Rugby Championship comes with the Springboks on a high after an historic 38-12 win over Australia, their first ever victory in Brisbane.
The All Blacks, meanwhile, lacked cohesion when they beat Argentina 28-13 in Hamilton at the weekend and suffered the loss of McCaw for up to five weeks with a knee injury.
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer described the battle for supremacy in the championship as the "ultimate challenge, and tougher than we've ever had before".
Even though McCaw's absence was a "big blow" for New Zealand, South Africa remained "underdogs, but we like that tag," he said.
"I've got a lot of respect for Richie, he's probably one of the best players that's ever played the game.
"They've still got great leaders, Kieran Read and a lot of other guys as well. But there's only one Richie McCaw and it definitely will be a big blow for them."
Meyer also talked up McCaw's understudy, the 21-year-old Sam Cane, saying New Zealand probably have the best openside flankers in world rugby.
"Every single New Zealand openside in Super Rugby is a quality player. They've won a lot of games without Richie as well and they won't change their game plan," he said.
"We know what to expect, and we think the breakdown is going to be a war like it always is, especially in New Zealand."
Cane however will give away presence at the breakdown when he pits his 103-kilogram (225 pounds) frame against the 112-kilogram Francois Louw. McCaw's listed weight is 108 kilograms.
This raises the possibility that the fit again Liam Messam could replace Steven Luatua to add more muscle to the All Blacks loose forward trio.