All Blacks v Springboks: Professional rugby marks turning of tide in world rugby' greatest rivalry

The All Blacks and Springboks will write the next chapter in their cherished rivalry on Saturday night when the sides meet for the 100th time - a century after their first encounter.

While the early years of this rivalry were evenly contested, New Zealand have dominated proceedings in recent years, since the game turned professional in 1996.

That year, the All Blacks won a series in South Africa for the first time, when Sean Fitzpatrick's men scored an epic 2-1 victory.

The breakthrough proved just the tonic the team and country needed, after Rugby World Cup heartbreak 12 months earlier.

All Blacks great Jeff Wilson played a starring role in 1996, creating memories he still holds close more than 25 years later.

Wilson says the timing of that tour was perfect, given the torment of losing the biggest match of his career the previous year.

"When you're trying to create history and do something for the first time, there's a weight of expectation in and around that," Wilson tells Newshub.

"The moment we go past 1995, the motivation for 1996 started - the conversations around 'we're going back [to make amends]'."

And after that famous final test victory at Pretoria, the rivalry blossomed and bruising, physical encounters followed, although the players weren't causing all the damage, with the infamous pitch invader at Durban in 2002 putting an unsavory stain on the All Blacks' 31-28 victory.

For coaching great Sir Steve Hansen, who was involved in every Springboks v All Blacks test from 2003-19, the rivalry flourished with every match.

"New Zealanders fell in love with the contest," Hansen tells Newshub. "So did the players.

"There's a massive amount of respect for both teams, and that's just grown and grown."

For Hansen, one test stands above the rest.

He describes the All Blacks' 38-27 win in 2013 as the greatest test match of all time - and he's been involved enough to know.

Conrad Smith makes a tackle against South Africa 2013.
Conrad Smith makes a tackle against South Africa 2013. Photo credit: Photosport

"It was a hell of a struggle - everyone was out on their feet. There's a clip where the whistle blew for fulltime, and you've got New Zealand players on their hands and knees on the ground, just exhausted."

That test sums up the rivalry. Whether it's a one-off series, the Rugby Championship or a World Cup, tests against the Springboks hit differently.

"What you do know is that every single week with the Springboks, I think, like no other team in world rugby, you are going to be tested physically and mentally," notes Wilson.

"There's no bullshit with them," adds Hansen. "What you see is what you get."

Join us at 7pm Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v Springboks 100th test at Townsville