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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Springboks Gear Up, Await Ultimate Test

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Nothing in Springbok rugby history has ever surpassed a World Cup final against New Zealand in front of a sellout 62,000 crowd at Ellis Park, a scenario unthinkable even three years ago.


Yet as South Africa awaits the ultimate proof of its sporting and political rebirth Saturday, the Springbok players are intent on remembering the biggest day of their lives for more than just the occasion.


"For us to be here is a dream, but it's amazing how quickly your objectives get adjusted. Suddenly it's not enough," admitted manager Morne du Plessis.


Even so, there are 15 reasons to make even the most ardent Springbok supporter nervous. New Zealanders love a great rugby occasion, but nobody could accuse them of being sentimental.


Worse, the All Blacks have played the most exhilarating rugby of the tournament.


They have successfully combined traditional New Zealand virtues of power and pace with inventive tactics and the phenomenal talent of winger Jonah Lomu.


England coach Jack Rowell, whose team was swept aside 45-29 in last weekend's semifinal, said Thursday the All Blacks had raised the game to a new level.


The Springboks' route to the final has been so eventful that it would be unwise for the All Blacks to rule out the unexpected.


Having witnessed the remarkable 27-18 triumph over Australia at Newlands, not to mention the "bathtub" semifinal in Durban, Du Plessis is convinced Francois Pienaar's men are ready for anything.


Coach Kitch Christie, yet to taste defeat after 10 tests in charge, has been focusing pre-match attention on opposition half-backs Graeme Bachop and Andrew Mehrtens. But former All Black great Brian Lochore is convinced the younger men will be equal to the task.


"They haven't gone badly so far, though I guess this is a game with a little more pressure," Lochore said. "But if they weren't going to handle the pressure, I would have thought it would have shown by now."


The key for South Africa will be denying their opponents, specifically the 20-year-old Lomu, the time and space to wreak havoc, a task that will fall primarily to James Small.


On the Lomu front, New Zealand stores have run out of taro root. There was a run on the vegetable after it was revealed as the Tongan-born Lomu's favorite food while growing up and given credit for his size and strength.


Christie also singles out flanker Josh Kronfeld as a major reason behind New Zealand's renaissance.


What gives the final extra meaning is the traditional rivalry between New Zealand and South Africa.


Both sides insist there is no comparison with the last occasion the countries met on the same ground in August 1992.


The only Springbok survivor from the side beaten 27-24 that day is Small, the man charged with marking Lomu.


Christie believes South Africa has learned from the loss, saying the team was "arrogant" before it.