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Smith: We'll have to be at our best

New Zealand centre Conrad Smith believes the visit of in-form South Africa will be a crucial step in the All Blacks' development as they look towards the defence of their World Cup title.

The All Blacks have had a relatively easy time of it since slipping to defeat in England back in December, wrapping up three straightforward wins against France before strolling through the early stages of their Rugby Championship campaign.

But the quality of opposition will take a step up with the arrival in Auckland of Heyneke Meyer's men, who have won nine straight Tests.

It is the sort of challenge New Zealand will need to experience if they are to launch a successful title defence in England in 2015.

Smith said on allblacks.com: "These games can be [crucial] particularly when one team takes a lot away from it. You can build real momentum towards a World Cup that's a few years away.

"We're certainly viewing it as the biggest challenge since the World Cup so we're prepared for a big game and I know they will be as well."

With the exception of Richie McCaw, New Zealand have named more or less a full-strength team.

With captain McCaw sidelined by a knee injury, Sam Cane will take his place in the back row, while Owen Franks, Liam Messam and Ma'a Nonu all return.

Smith, along with Nonu, will have the task of combating the considerable threat posed by South Africa captain Jean de Villiers and rookie JJ Engelbrecht.

"We always respect whoever we're playing but it didn't take much to look at that Springbok performance last week, and in the weeks previous, to know they're playing some pretty good footy," said Smith.

"And if we're not on the mark then we're going to come second.

"That strikes a bit of fear and hopefully it brings out the best in us."

De Villiers and his men face a daunting task with South Africa not having won at Eden Park since 1937, although they did claim a memorable draw in 1994.

The All Blacks have won each of their 30 games at the venue since then.

Nevertheless, De Villiers believes the Springboks can break that sequence on Saturday.

"We're up against one of the best sides of all time, and having not won at this ground for a long time it is going to be a massive challenge," he told sarugby.net.

"I'm proud of how far we've come. There's a lot of confidence and belief that we can do something special this Saturday, but then I'm sure a lot of teams have felt that way before playing at Eden Park.

"The reality is we're playing against a team that doesn't lose too often, and on a ground where we haven't won for 76 years. To win, we have to make zero mistakes. The bounce of the ball will have to go our way."

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