The Springboks are miles away from overhauling the All Blacks at the game's summit, writes RYAN VREDE.
When Heyneke Meyer took the reins of the Springboks, he said his mission was to make them the best team in the world for an extended period. To achieve that they had to unseat New Zealand, then sustain a high level of performance to fend off challenges from those below them.
Following a deeply disappointing Castle Rugby Championship performance in Mendoza, that isn't Meyer's central focus at this point. He is tasked with identifying what went wrong and why his charges failed to come remotely close to the standard they set the previous week in Johannesburg.
How can they reasonably be expected to win at bogey grounds in Australia and New Zealand if they cannot put Argentina away convincingly in Mendoza?
A fortnight is a long time in Test rugby and the Springboks could well rebound from their awful display at the weekend – one rescued only by Morné Steyn's goal-kicking – to mount a victorious challenge in Brisbane against the Wallabies. However, that is a stretch for even the most ardent Springbok supporter. Beating the All Blacks at Eden Park the week after is a pipe-dream on the evidence of their mediocrity in Mendoza.
Their technical and tactical superiority was established at Soccer City, but that suffered as they struggled to make an emphatic statement about their mental strength. Certainly, the Pumas were disruptive, abrasive, combative and, judging by the frustration expressed by some of the Springboks and subsequent citings, often overstepped the mark as far as discipline was concerned.
But was any of that unexpected? Indeed, that was the foundation of the South Americans' approach in the 16-16 draw a year ago. There was nothing the Springboks wouldn't have predicted, yet, armed with all this information, they failed to mount a telling rebuttal and at no stage imposed themselves.
Some senior Springboks lacked the presence and influence required of them in a match of this nature, while others looked impostors of the fine players they are. Mendoza is fast becoming a burial ground for Springboks' ambitions, and the prospect of their next two Tests at venues where they have never fared well, doesn't stir optimism for a campaign that started so promisingly at Soccer City.
There is something about Suncorp Stadium that turns Springbok giants into dwarves, and despite the Wallabies' successive defeats to the Blacks, they will start as favourites for the 7 September fixture. The Springboks' record in Auckland, where they haven't won since 1937 and the Blacks haven't lost in 19 years (31 matches), is dismal. This will be the Springboks' toughest task this season.
There is little to suggest that the Springboks have narrowed the gulf that exists between them and their great rivals New Zealand. The former's performance at the Calabash was clinical and impressive, but much of the goodwill they earned from that was lost with their showing in Mendoza. The Blacks romped to a 54-15 win in La Plata in 2012, showing that they have the mental strength to match their appreciable technical and tactical strength. The Springboks pale in comparison in all three of those areas, and coach Meyer's vision of overhauling them at the game's summit appears to be a dream that will remain unattained for some time to come.
Photo: Ian McNicol/Getty Images
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