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All Blacks expect strong battle from Springboks

Some things change, some don't. Stand-in All Blacks skipper Kieran Read today made it clear that when it came to the in-form Springboks there was one constant.

Never mind that the South Africans come in to tomorrow night's clash of the Rugby Championship's unbeaten sides with a reputation for having expanded their game. Big time.

The Boks have scored 14 tries in their three victories so far; the All Blacks 11 in theirs. The rugby world has turned on its head.

Without doubt coach Heyneke Meyer has his team playing a more rounded brand of rugby, eager and willing to use width when it's on and enjoying setting free spirits like Willie le Roux, JJ Englebrecht and the eternally classy Jean de Villiers into some space with ball in hand.

"They still pride themselves on the set piece, and I guess chasing kicks and being physical," said Read today at the end of his Captain's Run at Eden Park. "That's something they'll continue to do, but I guess they have shown they can play with the ball and score tries which is a threat as well.

"You expect them to come at us pretty heavily in the forwards so that's our challenge this week for the boys up front -- to get really stuck into them."

Yes, that doesn't change when it comes to playing the South Africans.

It's a big night for Read at a ground - not a million miles from where he grew up in south of Auckland -- where the All Blacks haven't lost in 31 tests, since 1994, and have won their last 30 on the bounce.

With Richie McCaw out with that medial ligament tear, he has the leadership mantle to go with his tag as the All Blacks' best player. It's a dual responsibility he carries with the lightness of someone completely on top of his game.

"From my point of view I've got to go out and play as well as I can do," said Read who will earn his 55th test cap tomorrow night. "That's my focus every time I run out, and that's going to be the biggest challenge getting up and doing what I can."

Even without McCaw - and Chiefs youngster Sam Cane deputising - the All Blacks still have a team capable of neutralising these in-form Boks who have won nine straight and have a definite spring in their step.

But they'll need to meet the physical challenge up front first. That will allow them to play the game at the pace they prefer.

"Both teams are playing pretty good rugby at the moment, and probably both camps have got a bit of confidence," said Read. "As a team we know the challenge ahead but we're confident in our abilities and I think we can play a lot better than what we have done."

Read said it's been a pretty seamless week for him stepping into the captaincy, especially with McCaw still around to add his five cents' worth. 

"He's been doing pretty much the same role as he normally would have except for getting out on the track, so it's been a good week so far with we've how built up," aid Read.The Eden Park factor definitely weighs heavily in the All Blacks' favour. It's a ground they love playing at and invariably reserve their best efforts for. They've won two World Cups there and their last 30 tests.

The Boks last won at Eden park back in 1937, which is a long time between drinks.

"We love playing here at Eden Park," added Read. "It certainly is our home here in New Zealand, and I think it's more about us coming out and performing and doing what we can."

Read also had no doubt that his young forwards Cane and hooker Dane Coles were up to the mark in what shapes as the biggest tests of their young careers.

"They've been around a wee while, probably not at this level and at the intensity they'll find tomorrow night, but they're young kids who have got great heads on their shoulders. They'll step in and do what they need to do, and it's really about them just doing their roles."

Source: Fairfax News 
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