LONDON - All Blacks centre Conrad Smith is excited about adding another chapter to one of rugby’s most enduring rivalries when New Zealand and South Africa meet at Twickenham on Saturday.
The 34-year-old Hurricanes captain believes the Springboks will be the “ultimate” test for his team but insists there is also a strong mutual respect between the Rugby World Cup 2015 semi-final opponents.
“They are a special opponent and it’s a very special rivalry,” Smith said. “I grew up during the apartheid era, when Australia were the traditional foes, but now South Africa have come back into it and I think it’s got back to where it was and they are our ultimate rival.
“There’s something special about playing them, and playing them in a semi-final will be extra special.
“We have a good relationship with most teams we play, but South Africa have a special respect for the game. That’s why two minutes after the match we are able to shake hands, walk off the pitch and have a chat with them.”
Smith is anticipating a close, physical battle with Heyneke Meyer’s men and admits it will be difficult for the All Blacks to replicate the intense, free-flowing rugby they displayed in the 62-13 quarter-final hammering of France.
Despite receiving plaudits for the nature of that victory, Smith says the New Zealand players have put the win behind them and are fully focused on a tougher challenge ahead this week.
“We’ve put a full stop on that win against France and now it is a new week. There’s a bigger task now and you have to come down from that high. We now need to do even better than we did last week,” Smith continued.
“They are always tight match-ups with the Springboks and I’m sure this one will be the same. They’ve been impressive so far and individually they have great players.
“Although we beat them in our last outing in the Rugby Championship, we weren’t proud of the way we played. We know we are playing a very good, physical side this weekend.
“Their performances so far suggest they will be better at the set-piece than France, and our defence will have to be on top of their game.”