Old time apprehension New Zealanders held before All Blacks versus Springboks contests returns when the two clash in Japan on Saturday night to kick off their Rugby World Cup campaign.
Fear even, given South Africa’s improvement in recent times when too many ageing, injury-prone All Blacks have creaked rather than peaked.
Sure, as head coach Steve Hansen reminds us, Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter made miraculous comebacks from injuries in previous triumphant World Cup displays in 2011 and 2015 respectively.
But can Richie Mo’unga, Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams perform with the five-eighths perfection of Carter and Ma’a Nonu in 2015 against rush defences that kill enterprising back play?
I also share the fear of many others; games will be won and lost on referees’ interpretation of the off-side laws.
Having written this column before the naming of the All Blacks team to play South Africa because of print deadlines, I can only hope it will be similiar with few exceptions to that which trounced poor Tonga 92-7.
Certainly the starting backline should be similar although Ben Smith’s brilliance at fullback may have the selectors debating whether to return him there and Beauden Barrett to first-five ahead of Richie Mo’unga or return Smith to right wing ahead of the lively Sevu Reece.
Most likely Aaron Smith will have been named as the starting halfback despite PJ Perenara’s strong performance against Tonga. With Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienart-Brown combining so beautifully in that game, they should be retained before introducing the brittle Sonny Bill Williams and Jack Goodhue against weaker teams.
Under the coaching of Rassie Erasmus Rugby Championship winners South Africa are playing to their full potential with strong combative forwards and smart and fast backs.
The same can be said for England while Six Nations champions Wales, Ireland and hot-and-cold Australia can all upset the best.
Although Ireland lead New Zealand 2-1 in their last three clashes, I believe South Africa and England pose the greater threat to wresting the Webb Ellis Cup from them.
Champion lock Brodie Retallick hopes that he will be fully recovered from his dislocated shoulder to play the quarter-finals. Even if he does, he won’t be match-fit after Bok lock RJ Snyman crippled him with a dubious off the ball tackle which went unpunished in this year’s 16-all draw.
It says much for the Boks locking strength that the powerful Snyman came off the reserves bench in that game and in muscular hooker Malcolm Marx and loosies Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen they have world class players.
The clash between those loosies and Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Kieran Read should be as intriguing as that between Marx and the mobile Dane Coles.
In Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard, the Boks have smart, experienced pivots, along with strong centres Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel and clever fullback Willie le Roux.
Add dangerous wings Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi and they are a real threat to add to their 1995 and 2007 triumphs to challenge New Zealand’s record three.
However England, Wales and Ireland will also fancy their chances, as will the Aussies who tend to only remember their wins. Which, of course, requires excellence when they look far back to when they last held the Bledisloe Cup.
Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sportswriter.