JOHANNESBURG – At least one very prominent and knowledgeable New Zealander believes South Africa will have a major advantage in the decisive Rugby Championship Test in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Even though Heyneke Meyer's Springboks must beat the Steve Hansen-coached All Blacks by more than seven points, score four tries and prevent the Kiwis from getting four touch-downs, they have in Ellis Park the perfect ally.
Former All Black mentor Laurie Mains, who coached the All Blacks in their 1995 World Cup Final loss to the Boks and later was also in charge of the Johannesburg-based Cats, felt the stadium is one of the most intimidating venues in the world.
Mains said there was simply no matching Ellis Park when it was stacked with their parochial fans.
"The history, tradition and altitude of Ellis Park sets it apart. The South African crowds are very noisy, very vocal and I guess a bit intimidating," he told Fairfax media.
"Clearly the All Blacks will be going out there [hoping] to start very well to keep the crowd out of the game."
Mains can rattle off many the reasons why Ellis Park is such an intimidating venue for visiting sides and expects the Bok coach to draw on them all.
The All Blacks, who haven't played at Ellis Park since 2004, have only won three of their 11 tests at the Johannesburg stadium since 1928.
Given the All Blacks' strike rate against all opponents, which sits at 76 percent, the Ellis Park figure is a remarkable statistic.
And Mains believes Meyer, despite the Boks' 15-29 loss at Eden Park on September 14, would be in a positive mood as he prepares to unleash his men into the cauldron for the Rugby Championship decider.
"South Africa in South Africa at any time are tough and at Ellis Park it will be tougher again," Mains declared.
"Believe me, the Springboks are a better team than what we saw in Auckland, where the referee destroyed the game and it largely counted against them. The All Blacks will do extremely well to win it.
"They should [win] with the dynamics of the team and the way they play. But it will be a very tough one."
The fizz went out of last month's much-hyped test at Eden Park after referee Romain Poite controversially red-carded hooker Bismark du Plessis.
Mains was in charge of the All Blacks when the Springboks returned from isolation for the Ellis Park match in 1992 and when they lost the World Cup Final to the hosts at the ground three years later.
The former international fullback was also the head coach of the Cats, who used Ellis Park as their home ground, in 2000 and 2001 – when they made the play-offs.
Although New Zealand teams no longer struggle as much with playing at altitude – Johannesburg is 1753m above sea level – Mains said the dry air could still be of some discomfort for touring sides.
"It has always been difficult for visiting teams in that 15 minutes before half-time and in the last 20 minutes of a match."
Mains is on friendly terms with Meyer, who was in charge of the Northern Bulls when the former was with the Cats, and believes the South African would be wanting more than just victory against the All Blacks.
To win the Rugby Championship the Springboks need a bonus-point victory. The All Blacks need just one more point. – Rugby365