The Springboks still have some way to go before they can match the All Blacks, but they are clearly on the right track, writes JON CARDINELLI in Buenos Aires.
The Argentina post-match press conference was a miserable affair. Coach Santiago Phelan slumped in his seat, completely deflated. Phelan cringed when he was asked if Argentina could turn things around in the space of seven days. His answer was in the affirmative, although it was a response much like his team's performance: all good intent and no conviction.
Pumas captain Felipe Contepomi looked more angry than dejected. 'No excuses,' the veteran centre muttered when asked if all the Nelson Mandela Day fanfare had been a distraction for the tourists.
When the focus shifted back to Phelan, Contepomi continued to stare into the distance. It was at that point when he was probably wondering why he'd come out out of international retirement to play for a team so clearly out of its depth.
The Boks were good at Soccer City this past Saturday, but they were not so good that they should have won by 60 points.
Bok captain Jean de Villiers seemed to infer as much afterwards. He said the result would be celebrated on the night, as it's not often that a team scores nine tries and 73 points, but he stressed that this was by no means a sign that this Bok team were the finished article, or that they had arrived as front runners for the Castle Rugby Championship title.
Indeed, while the Boks broke the record for the biggest win in the competition's history, it was the All Blacks who made the greater statement in round one of the 2013 tournament.
New Zealand hammered Australia 47-29 in Sydney. The history of the tournament will show that away matches are always more difficult, even for a side like the All Blacks. And given that this is the top international tournament in the world and defensive systems are among the best, it said something for the quality of this All Blacks unit that they were able to score six tries.
Perhaps that was what Contepomi was contemplating. Argentina were abjectly poor in Johannesburg and the nightmare could reach its nadir later in the competition when they suffer further injuries to frontline players. They will play South Africa again this weekend and face a difficult tour Down Under thereafter. Sad to say it, but the humiliation has only just begun.
The Argentina skipper did make an interesting comment about the Boks' standing in world rugby, though. It was his opinion that the Boks would push the All Blacks for that No 1 ranking in 2013.
The All Blacks have long been the side to beat, although it's in the past three years where they have operated at a level far above all other contenders.
The Boks finished the 2012 season as the No 2 side in the world, but they were a very distant second to the All Blacks. In 2013, as Contepomi suggests, the Boks may start to close that gap, if not all at once, then certainly by a significant distance.
I'm not saying that the All Blacks are standing still. To win so emphatically in Sydney said a lot for the skill and ambition of a side that have nothing left to prove. They are still operating at higher level than their closest rivals, but that doesn't mean that the Boks can't catch them in the coming years.
I wrote at the beginning of the tournament that the Boks would be lucky to win a game in Australasia, such is their record at Suncorp Stadium and Eden Park. I maintain that stance. While I believe the Boks are a far more settled and confident group than they were in 2012, they are not yet at the point of their evolution where they can score record-breaking wins away from home.
The reason I bring this up is because I feel there needs to be perspective. There needs to be some perspective following the Boks' win against Argentina (and also after a likely win this coming Saturday in Mendoza). There needs to be perspective when the Boks go on tour Down Under next month.
They must continue to improve and build, but the success of this team should be measured by the quality of their performances rather than just by their results.
Meyer and his charges scored in both departments last Saturday, and from what I've heard, they will be taking nothing for granted this weekend in Mendoza.
Word from the Argentinian camp is that the Pumas will be further depleted. It may seem like a recipe for complacency, but then the Boks will remember how a complacent attitude very nearly led to a defeat in the Mendoza fixture played in 2012.
if De Villiers' promises of consistency are to be taken to heart, then we can expect an improved performance by the Boks this Saturday. They may not score as many tries or points as they did in Johannesburg, but it's crucial that they improve on their performance.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images
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