Johannesburg — It was cooking in the Mbombela Stadium for the Boks last week but the heat will be cranked up even further at Ellis Park on Saturday when the ailing All Blacks search for a remedy at the spiritual home of South African rugby.
That is the opinion of Bok centre Damian de Allende, who reckons this Rugby Championship clash is going to be an epic occasion.
“What we experienced at Mbombela was special but I think it is going to be even louder at Ellis Park,” said De Allende, who lost to the All Blacks when they played the Boks there in 2015.
“We as players regard Ellis Park as a national treasure and we can’t wait for Saturday.
“When the Lions were enjoying that great run in Super Rugby under Johan Ackermann, it was very hard for visiting teams. There is something about the atmosphere that the stadium can generate …
“It promises to be a fantastic occasion but we are very aware that the All Blacks also enjoy Ellis Park where the pitch is fast and dry,” the 30-year-old warned. “They will rise to the occasion, they won’t be holding back in conditions that favour their running game, and it will also be much cooler than it was in Nelspruit — later in that game the ball got quite greasy, it was very warm, and handling became difficult for them when they had to chase the game.”
A Kiwi reporter asked De Allende if he agreed that the All Blacks are there for the taking but the 61-cap veteran has experienced way too much pain at the hands of the All Blacks to fall into that trap.
“They are going through a tough time and I hope it passes for them but not this week!” he grinned. “Look, they have so many game-breakers and pretty soon the passes are going to start sticking and they will be devastating,” he said. “They are so highly skilled, they can throw the ball around from anywhere on the pitch and you never know what is coming, and we know we have to stay alert and aware for the entire 80-odd minutes.”
De Allende was in the Bok sides that in 2016 and 2017 were pumped 14-13 in Christchurch and then in Albany and Durban by 57-0 and 57-15.
“What we went through in 2016 and 2017 was very tough,” De Allende said ruefully. “Then Rassie (Erasmus) and Jacques (Nienaber) came in and they got buy-in from the players regarding their philosophy on how to win Test matches.
“They had a plan, they were consistent in everything they did from selection to game plan,” De Allende explained. “There was alignment with everything we did and an emphasis on the importance of every minute of every Test match, and Jacques brought in a new mentality on defence.
“From that first series we played against England in 2018 they kept pushing us on to go harder and make better decisions on the field, and the harder we went, the greater the reward we got.”