Heyneke Meyer's Springboks look closer than ever to what he envisions. The Test against the old enemy in Auckland will show just how close, writes RYAN VREDE.
What a difference a fortnight makes. The Springboks' performance in Mendoza was impotent and sterile, while the showing to break the Brisbane curse couldn't have been more different. They were brutal, efficient and clinical in every facet of play, producing their best performance under Meyer's watch.
Some may counter that assertion and point at the demolition job they did on the Wallabies at Loftus last year. But that would fail to take into account home advantage and the grace that was extended to Meyer and his team in their first season together, which lessened the pressure on them. None of those things could be claimed this time around. The Springboks hadn't won at Suncorp Stadium in six attempts and there could be no excuses offered on the latter front.
In private discussions with Meyer at the beginning of his tenure, he spoke of the time it would take for his vision to play out. He understood that in a results-driven environment, the South African rugby fraternity's patience is finite and that there needed to be evidence of what the destination looked like, even though he knew it would take a while to get there.
Those glimpses came at Loftus and indeed, from a mettle perspective, on the year-end tour. Still, there was enough ineptitude in 2012 to ensure that the skeptics remained unconvinced. Failure to beat New Zealand – one of those two defeats coming despite having the world champions on the ropes in Dunedin and the other a home pasting – as well as the 12-point gulf between them at the tournament's conclusion, were the low points of a forgettable first season.
Yet on the evidence of their performance on Saturday, there is a distinct belief in the Springbok camp that they have eroded some of the distance between them and the Blacks.
Conditions in Hamilton closed the gap between the Blacks and Argentina, but, under normal circumstances, it is vast. They remain the standard against which any side with ambition of ascending to the summit of the game must measure themselves. Meyer's primary goal at the outset of his tenure was to unseat the Blacks, then maintain that position for an extended period of time.
This isn't the quality of team the Blacks won the 2011 World Cup with, where a number of their key players were in their prime and with a coach in Graham Henry who had reached his professional nirvana. Yet they are by no means obviously vulnerable, outside of their lineout play, which is a glaring deficiency when compared to the Springboks' excellence in this regard.
The Springboks appear better placed to take the first steps towards their primary goal now than ever before, and beating Steve Hansen's powerhouse collective at Eden Park, another ground associated more with misery than memorable moments, will be a significant step to the aforementioned destination.
Photo: Matt Kolbe/Getty Images
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