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AUCKLAND (AFP) – The All Blacks will put their future on the line when they face the Springboks in Auckland on Saturday in a battle for supremacy in the Rugby Championship.
It is a match New Zealand have labelled their toughest contest since winning the World Cup two years ago.
For the Springboks, the clash of the only two unbeaten sides in the championship and the top two ranked teams in the world, is about continuing to rewrite the history books.
They have named the same line-up that thrashed Australia 38-12 last week in an historic first win in Brisbane over the Wallabies.
The All Blacks, meanwhile, have made five changes to the side that stuttered to a 28-13 win over Argentina, including the selection of Test tyro Dane Coles ahead of seasoned hookers Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu.
"He's somebody we see as the future and we think now's the time to give him an opportunity to go against the best," coach Steve Hansen said Thursday of the surprise decision to pit Coles against a powerful Springbok pack.
"He's the guy we see going forward. We just think it's time to give him an opportunity in the big ball park and see how he goes."
With dominance in the forward clashes earmarked as where the Test will be won or lost, Hansen as expected opted for the tearaway Sam Cane to replace injured skipper Richie McCaw and mark the inform Francois Louw on the openside flank.
On the blindside he has brought back the experienced Liam Messam who is more accustomed to the confrontational style of the South Africans than Steven Luatua who moves to the bench.
In a departure from previous South African sides, the Springboks under coach Heyneke Meyer have looked comfortable moving the ball wide, playing an attacking game and have shown they can win away from home.
All Blacks playmaker Dan Carter admits to being impressed with the high-octane approach, but he believes the All Blacks will still be able to "out-think" the Springboks.
"This is going to be the biggest match of our year so far, and even potentially one of the biggest since the World Cup because of the form they're in," Carter said.
"Their backs are scoring good tries, their outside backs are making breaks, and they're a bit more of an all-round package -- whereas in previous years they have been quite one-dimensional.
"The thing we pride ourselves on is having the ability to out-think them as well, but it's going to be a challenge this week."
The Springboks, having broken their Brisbane hoodoo, have placed multiple targets in their sights this week.
They have not won at Eden Park since 1937 while the All Blacks are on a 30-Test winning streak on the same ground. The All Blacks also need one more victory to become the most successful Test winning nation of all time.
When they beat Argentina last week they drew level with France on 382 wins.
"Last week showed records are there to be broken," Springboks assistant coach Ricardo Loubscher said.
"We took a lot of confidence out of last week. Our job is to make sure we win every Test match."