Rugby: Friends off the field, but expect all-out war between All Blacks and Springboks

The weather in England's capital has been typical so far this week, gloomy with the occasional shower. There has been one glorious day of sunshine and it was on this day that I decided to have a walk around the typical tourist sights of Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.

With the cool weather, it seemed like a good excuse to have a walkaround with no set route.

As I walked past the offices of Whitehall, I came across a row of flags, and below the Singapore flag, oddly enough, was a memorial to those lost to the 2002 Bali bombings. I stopped and could not help but look at the memorial and the names that were all so familiar to me. They were the team-mates of the Singapore Cricket Club rugby section that we lost more than a decade ago.

It was poignant, as we had just held a memorial for the occasion last week. As I stood there, I could not help but think that if not for those tragic events, we would be in London probably having a couple pints of beer, shooting the breeze and enjoying the atmosphere of this Rugby World Cup.

That is the spirit of rugby - no matter where you are in the world, you always have friends and team-mates.

That is the spirit of the game that South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer talked about at his press conference, describing how his rival for Saturday's semi final, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen, bought him a beer the first time Springboks lost to the All Blacks.

It has since become a tradition for the winning coach to buy the opposing counterpart a beer each time the two sides meet.

Hansen is still on guard though, as there is the matter of the All Blacks quest to be the first nation to win back-to-back World Cup titles. They need to overcome South Africa at Twickenham (Oct 24, 11.45pm, FOX Sports 2), and the wiry Hansen was not falling for all the praise heaped on him and his side.

He said: "(Meyer) has been praising us all week. But I bet they are getting ready to rip our heads off. That is a tactic. Behind closed doors, he is not saying that too much. If we don't come with our 'A' game, then we won't get a chance. You can't get caught up lapping up the praise."

New Zealand looked the goods last weekend as they smashed France's hopes in Cardiff. A sigh of relief came from the land of the long white cloud as the All Blacks had to that stage looked far from being world champions.

Dan Carter, the playmaker who missed the last World Cup final through injury, cemented his place as the best No. 10 in the world. His no-look pass eclipsed that of Carlos Spencer's through-the-leg pass at the 2003 World Cup against South Africa.

Carter is looking fresh, and he too is keeping his eye on the prize. When asked how he felt after their quarter-final win, his reply was stoic, saying: "We have to focus on this week and not look back. This is going to be close game, this one. We have to put a full stop on last week. It is a new challenge."

Carter and the 'Dad's Army' of Richie McCaw, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu are striving to end their international careers on a high. Their play last week showed that they can still do it, and their play around the park inspired similarly sensational displays from the likes of Kieran Read and Nehe Milner-Skudder.

The All Blacks look good from number 1 to 15, and that will be the danger.

South Africa is a team that is equal to the task. They have an aging core, and will need to lean on newer players like 21-year-old playmaker Handré Pollard to steady the ship and break the All Blacks defence.

Pollard will need to have a cool head and nerves of steel to face up against Carter and Co.

The main contest will be among the forwards, where McCaw will face up against the equally-evergreen Schalk Burger. Burger is one of only two South Africans to play in four World Cups and has the winners medal from 2007 as well.

The man has come back from near-death after a bout of bacterial meningitis to be a Player of the Year, and his strength in contact situations and open field running will be a sight to behold. Him facing the wily and some might even say sometimes-criminal McCaw is going to be one to watch.

It is going to be a cracker of a game. Both sides have the weight of their nations behind them. It is going to be physical - 15 men smashing against 15 other guys. There will be no doubt about that.

Both teams will have share a laugh and a post-game drink, minutes after trying to take each other's heads off. That is the spirit of rugby, and as I was reminded the other day standing at Whitehall, we are fortunate to be able to do it here with friends watching from above, for it is the game they play in heaven.

stsports@sph.com.sg

Note: Jonathan Leow, 35, was a Singapore national rugby player and previously coached the national Under-19 team. He also played for the University of Sydney and in the lower divisions in New Zealand. He is currently the vice-president of the Singapore Rugby Union and the organising committee chairman of the Singapore Cricket Club International Rugby Sevens.