RUGBY NEWS - South Africa stepped up pressure on referee Jerome Garces ahead of their blockbuster World Cup clash with the All Blacks, saying it was a "well known fact" that tight decisions often go New Zealand's way.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus said the match was too close to call after the two sides were separated by no more than two points in their past four clashes.
But he added that referees had so much respect for the All Blacks, the three-times world champions, that 50-50 decisions often fell in their favour.
His message to the French whistleblower came just two days after his assistant coach Mzwandile Stick appealed for "equal treatment" from Garces, and three days ahead of Saturday's showdown in Yokohama, the most anticipated game of the pool stage.
Erasmus, who named his strongest possible combination on Thursday, with the return of a fit-again Siya Kolisi the only change to the side that drew 16-16 with New Zealand two months ago, said the teams were evenly matched.
"The thing that makes it special is if you asked anyone right now who is going to win this Test match I don't think anyone will bet on any of the two teams," he said.
"If you ask our boys they think we've got a really good chance. If you ask their team they think they've got a really good chance and hopefully the referee is not too sure."
Kick and chase
Garces, who has red-carded two All Blacks and a Springbok, has handled three matches between the two sides in recent years, all of them won by New Zealand.
They narrowly won 20-18 in the 2015 World Cup semi-finals and 25-24 two years later when Springbok centre Damian de Allende was sent off.
In between, Garces oversaw the 2016 blowout when the All Blacks triumphed 57-15.
Although the All Blacks have slipped behind Ireland in the world rankings, Erasmus said their dominance over the past decade had earned them credit with match officials.
"Referees buy into that respect because you are playing so well," he said.
"It was a well-known fact that when it was really tough and teams were under the pump some of the 50-50 decisions just went (New Zealand's) way because they deserved that for being number one so long."
Erasmus has ensured Garces will be especially involved in Saturday's showdown by drawing up a kick-and-chase game plan that will test the All Blacks in the expected wet conditions and will result in heavy forward clashes in the difficult-to-police breakdown area.
This is the fifth meeting between the teams at a World Cup with the Springboks winning the 1995 final and 1999 bronze medal match, while New Zealand took the 2003 quarter-final and 2015 semi-final.
"You couldn't say there is a favourite. I think we have a healthy respect for each other's capabilities but it will come down to a small moment to decide a big game in the end," the coach said.
"Our job is to focus on executing our plan and our skills to the best of our ability and hope that that is enough to overcome a New Zealand team that will be doing exactly the same."