On Saturday, one hundred years and 43 days since the teams first met, New Zealand and South Africa will contest their 100th men’s test match.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions the Rugby Championship clash will be played in Townsville, Australia rather than Auckland or Johannesburg, but that won’t make the rivalry any less intense.

A test between the All Blacks and the Springboks, wherever it is staged, is guaranteed to bring parts of New Zealand and South Africa to a near standstill.

“They are our greatest foe, without question, and that hasn't changed,” former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick told World Rugby. 

“We don't fear them, but we just know that they're not going to go away easily. They're always going to be knocking at the door. 

“Every time I played them, I played them 12 times, and I can honestly say I never, ever thought the game was over until the last minute of the game, just because they're so relentless. 

“They're very similar to us, they're very pigheaded, they work hard and they like winning.”

‘Biggest game on the rugby calendar’

Fitzpatrick’s sentiments are echoed by former Springbok full-back Thinus Delport, who won one of the four test matches he played against New Zealand.

“For us as Springboks, our historic big clash is against the All Blacks,” Delport said. 

“You always want to measure yourself against the best in the world and we believe we are the best and the All Blacks believe they are the best. 

“It is the biggest game for us in the rugby calendar.” 

That has been true for much of the last century, since New Zealand beat South Africa 13-5 in Dunedin on 13 August, 1921.

Born 42 years later in Auckland, Fitzpatrick was brought up on tales of the New Zealand tours of South Africa in the 1970s, across which the All Blacks won only two of eight test matches.

“You wanted to play against them, because they had that aura about them,” he said.

Fitzpatrick made his All Blacks debut in 1986, and six years later he captained his country as they became the first team to take on the Springboks in South Africa post-apartheid.

The World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee describes that experience as a “dream come true” and the 27-24 All Blacks victory remains one of his favourite memories of playing the Springboks.

In 1996, Fitzpatrick would also lead the All Blacks to a first ever series victory in South Africa but it is not only New Zealand’s victories that the former hooker remembers fondly.

Fitzpatrick lost just two of his 12 tests against the Springboks, however, one of those was arguably the biggest match of them all as South Africa beat New Zealand 15-12 after extra-time in the Rugby World Cup 1995 final. 

Moments later, Nelson Mandela handed over the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar decked out in his number six Springbok jersey and created one of the most iconic moments in sporting history.

“We were lucky to have that opportunity,” Fitzpatrick said. 

“It was the greatest Rugby World Cup I've ever been to and it had everything, just unfortunately we were on the wrong side of the ledger at the end of the game. 

“But, to have the greatest man I've ever met be there at the ground, and what Nelson Mandela did for South Africa, and for the world actually, and using sport as a mechanism for change. He definitely got that.”

Living the dream

Delport played in fewer New Zealand-South Africa fixtures than Fitzpatrick, but his memories of the occasion are no less vivid.

The full-back’s sole victory against the All Blacks came in August, 2000 when he ran in one of the Springboks’ six tries during a 46-40 thriller at Ellis Park.

“It is always a memory I was always treasure and will never leave me,” Delport said. 

“That is what you grow up dreaming [about] when you play against your brothers in the back garden, you fight to see who is going to be the Springboks and who is going to be the All Blacks. 

“If you win the fight, you are the Springboks, if you lose the fight, you are the All Blacks. 

“So, from being a child playing barefoot in your back garden, that is the ultimate dream that you want to achieve and I was very fortunate and privileged to have done that, and score a try and beat the All Blacks in a high-scoring game.”

Another 46 players will get to live out their childhood dreams when the teams run out for the 100th time in Townsville on Saturday, with much more than Rugby Championship points on the line.

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