Two of the best teams in the world prepare for battle.
Global rugby powers New Zealand and South Africa square off at Ellis Park Saturday with the Rugby Championship title on the line.
The All Blacks take a five-point lead in the standings into a game that has captured the imagination of rugby followers far beyond the two countries.
A win, a draw, or a bonus point for losing by fewer than eight points or for scoring four tries will ensure the southern hemisphere trophy remains in Wellington.
But the Springboks can wrest the crown from their greatest rivals if they win by at least eight points, score four tries and deprive the visitors of any bonus points.
Add recalled warriors Bismarck du Plessis and Richie McCaw plus the setting of Ellis Park and the stage is set for a thriller on the fringe of the Johannesburg city centre.
Form favours New Zealand with seven wins from the last eight meetings in a 92-year rivalry that began with a 13-5 Dunedin victory for the men in black.
The most recent success came in Auckland last month with the 29-15 win marred by the controversial red-carding of hooker Du Plessis.
Ultra combative and famed for big ‘hits’, Du Plessis struck All Blacks playmaker Dan Carter hard but legally, only for French referee Romain Poite to flash a yellow card.
Another yellow card, this time for leading with his elbow into the throat of flank Liam Messam just after half-time, meant an automatic red for the Springbok.
A bubbling contest with the All Blacks deservedly seven points ahead lost its edge as the home side used numerical superiority to deadly effect.
International Rugby Board officials admitted the first yellow was wrong, but the damage was done and Springbok supporters craved a rematch.
“The All Blacks are the greatest team in the world and we want to test ourselves against the best,” said skipper and centre Jean de Villiers.
Coach Heyneke Meyer admits there are risks in pursuing a four-try bonus point against lethal counter-attackers like the All Blacks.
“It would be great just to beat them — but you either go for the four tries or you don’t. It is a huge challenge and risks will have to be taken.”
While New Zealand are seen as a team who love to run the ball, their kicking game also concerns the Springboks handler.
“The All Blacks kicking game is probably the best in the world — it is one area where we have fallen behind,” admitted Meyer.
“They kick deep or high and regain possession, they put their opponents under pressure, and they score from these situations.”
Du Plessis for Adriaan Strauss and Juandre Kruger for suspended lock Flip van der Merwe are the two changes from the side that won 28-8 over Australia in Cape Town.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen also made two changes to the team that weathered a first-half storm to triumph 33-15 in Argentina last weekend.
Inspirational skipper and flanker McCaw has recovered from a knee ligament injury and returns with Sam Cane dropping to the bench.
The other alteration to the starting line-up is enforced with a groin injury sidelining prop Owen Franks and Charlie Faumuina dons the No. 3 shirt.
Hansen is not one for superlatives, but he cannot help using them when discussing McCaw, the greatest ball winner in the often murky world of the breakdown.
McCaw has never played at Ellis Park and is eager to put one over the Springboks, who have won eight of 11 Tests there between the bitter rivals.
Veteran battle-scarred hooker Keven Mealamu, who will watch from the stand with Andrew Hore first choice and Dane Coles on the bench, says the ground provides a unique experience.
“You drive between the supporters and then you walk between them. The Springbok supporters are passionate and will often offer you some choice words.”
Blind will and physical intimidation will be the order of the day, says former All Blacks skipper turned columnist Taine Randall.
“This Test will not be about finesse,” he wrote. “The Springboks will come with physicality and unless you match that aggression, you will lose.”
History will also be created as All Blacks Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu become the most capped Test centre partnership with 51 appearances, nudging ahead of Irish pair Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.