South Africa’s assistant coach Mzwandile Stick is hoping for a strong performance by the match officials when the Boks take on New Zealand in their Rugby World Cup opener in Yokohama on Saturday.
The Boks have previously felt they have not always got the rub of the green from the officials in clashes with the world champions, especially in areas such as the breakdown and scrum.
With only two points separating the sides on aggregate in their last four matches, it suggests fine margins could decide the Pool B opener.
“Hopefully the match officials will respect the game because if you look at the way things are between us and New Zealand, I think we’re more balanced now,” Stick told reporters on Monday.
“If you look at the previous history when you look at the All Blacks, they’ve been dominating. When they go to the World Cup, sometimes they become favourites. We are at an equal level at the moment.
“Hopefully the match officials will also respect this game. Things are a lot more balanced between us and New Zealand right now.”
Stick said there was no out-and-out favourite to lift the trophy this time, saying any of the teams at the top of the world rankings — Ireland, New Zealand, England, South Africa and Wales — could lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
“If you look at the top five teams at the moment, each one of them has a good chance to win this World Cup,” he said.
“If you look at the recent results, even in the northern hemisphere, where Wales beat and lost to England, it’s been very close. It’s been a proper build-up to this World Cup.
“Hopefully the officials will treat every team equally, and respect the games and the fans.”
Stick believes the Boks could not have done much more in the build-up to their tournament opener as they enter the World Cup unbeaten in 2019 and as Rugby Championship holders.
“We’ve done a lot of hard work as a team and as a coaching staff. I feel that we’re all aligned and I don’t think we could have asked for a better build-up to the World Cup.”
They also face Italy, Namibia and Canada in their pool.
All Blacks aiming to punish any South Africa gambles
Meanwhile New Zealand says it will be looking to capitalise on any unnecessary risks South Africa choose to take, according to boss Steve Hansen, who is hoping to lead the All Blacks to a third consecutive title in Japan.
The hotly-anticipated match between the two old rivals on just the second day of the tournament is set to ignite the World Cup and Hansen is rightly wary of the Springboks following their Rugby Championship victory earlier this year.
Under Rassie Erasmus, South Africa have seen a dramatic uptick in form and have only lost once in their last seven matches, including a draw with New Zealand in July.
However, Hansen is the most experienced coach in world rugby and will be ready to exploit any chances South Africa give his players.
“Their defensive system has changed a lot. They roll the dice big time,” Hansen said on Monday after training.
“Their wingers come in off their wings – that’s what rolling the dice is. And they’re good at it. Very, very good at it.”
“You want them to roll a couple of ones, rather than a pair of sixes,” he added.
“If there’s one thing I do know, South Africa will give us opportunities because they roll the dice.”
“Are we good enough to take them? Will the weather allow us to take them? We’ll have to wait and see.”
(Reporting by Nick Said and Jack Tarrant; Editing by Ken Ferris)