The Springboks will play the All Blacks and Italy during the pool stage of the 2019 World Cup. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The World Cup draw was held in Kyoto, Japan, on Wednesday. The Boks (seventh in the World Rugby rankings) were drawn in Pool B along with the All Blacks (first) and Italy (15th).
The two remaining sides in Pool B are yet to be confirmed. What we know for certain, is that one of them will come out of the Africa 1 region and the other from the repechage qualification tournament. These teams will be confirmed in 2018.
'As I said before the draw was made, to us it doesn't matter who we are drawn against, because to win the World Cup, you have to beat the best teams out there,' said Bok coach Allister Coetzee, who was in Kyoto for the event.
'The pools consist of five teams each and history shows that you need to win at least three of your four pool matches to be sure of a place in the playoffs. We will focus on our journey towards the 2019 World Cup and make sure we are ready and well prepared.'
The All Blacks boast a formidable record against the Boks. Since 2012, New Zealand have won nine out of 10 Tests against South Africa. They beat the Boks in their 2015 World Cup semi-final, and went on to claim their second consecutive title.
New Zealand will be favourites to top Pool B and thus secure an easier path to the 2019 World Cup semi-finals. The Boks should beat the Africa 1 side (they thrashed Namibia, the best contender from this group, 87-0 at the 2011 World Cup) as well as the repechage winner.
In the past, you would have bet on the Boks to put Italy away. However, in the wake of Italy's famous win over the Boks in Florence last year, South Africa should take nothing for granted. That Boks vs Italy clash could determine whether South Africa progress in the 2019 tournament or fall short of the playoffs for the first time in history.
'We’ve been working hard since arriving back from the 2016 outgoing tour to ensure improved results from now on forward, with the World Cup on the distant horizon,' said Coetzee. 'If ever there was testimony that the gap between the top teams has closed, then we saw that over the past few months in the northern hemisphere. With New Zealand established as the No 1 side, there is also very little to choose between the top sides in the world, while the next batch of teams continue to improve.'
Can the Boks beat the All Blacks at the 2019 World Cup? They would have to improve a great deal over the next 24 months or so.
As mentioned, the Boks have battled to compete with the All Blacks over the past five years. They suffered a record 57-15 loss to New Zealand at Kings Park in October last year. South Africa's Super Rugby sides have lost nine of their 10 matches against Kiwi opposition in the first 11 rounds of the 2017 tournament.
Some might say that the Boks have to beat the All Blacks, and indeed every team in Pool B, to improve their chances of winning the World Cup. Since the inception of the tournament, no side has won the title after losing a pool match.
At least the Boks haven't been drawn in the Pool of Death. England, France and Argentina have all been drawn in Pool C.
England are currently second in the World Rugby rankings. Argentina have made improvements over the past few years and have recorded some historic wins against the likes of Australia and South Africa. France tend to lift themselves for big World Cup matches. Who could forget their famous win over the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final?
Australia and Wales should occupy the top two places in Pool D and secure playoff qualification. With regards to Pool A, it will be interesting to see if hosts Japan can make the knockout round for the first time in history.
Japan recorded a shock win over the Springboks on the opening weekend of the 2015 World Cup. Playing in a World Cup in their own country, they may have what it takes to beat one of Ireland or Scotland and ultimately secure passage to the next round.
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