Experimentation will take a back seat this week as the Springboks go all out to claim a second-successive win in New Zealand. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Boks have been targeting this game against the All Blacks – a precursor to the World Cup pool clash in Yokohama later this year – since the start of 2019. They desperately want to pick up some confidence and momentum ahead of the global tournament.
Everything from their strategies to their selection policies has been geared toward ensuring the best available players are at their physical peak at the Cake Tin this Saturday. As many as 13 players were sent to New Zealand last Thursday, while the rest of the squad departed on Saturday and Sunday evening.
Rassie Erasmus and his coaching staff feel that they have done their homework, and that these methods will give the Boks the best chance of winning in New Zealand.
‘We’ve done it like this – sending players ahead of time – because of the short turnaround between games,’ the Bok coach said after his side’s 35-17 win over Australia at Ellis Park on Saturday.
‘Otherwise we probably wouldn’t stand a chance. We said from the start that our main goal in Wellington was to win the Test match.’
That may seem like an obvious statement to make, until you consider what Erasmus has done over the past two weeks.
A side including several overseas-based stars and fringe players was selected to front the Wallabies. The Bok coach said in the buildup to that match that experimentation was arguably more important than winning.
While Erasmus should get a few more answers in Wellington this week, he is clearly more desperate for a victory.
A win at the Cake Tin would echo through to the World Cup fixture between the two southern hemisphere giants on 21 September.
‘There have been a couple of points in it over the past three games,’ Erasmus noted. ‘We came close at Newlands in 2017. We were lucky to beat them in Wellington last year, where it was very close, and then they came back to beat us at the end in Pretoria.
‘We’re playing them at the same ground as last year. It’s a massive one for them at home.
‘If you look at how they’ve managed their squad, they also kept a few guys back while the rest of the team travelled to Argentina [to secure a narrow 20-16 win]. So they will be fresh and they will be ready for a big performance.’
Erasmus suggested that he will consider all available options before settling on a starting XV. That said, one would expect the advance party to form the bulk of that combination.
The Bok coach did admit that the players in New Zealand would not be as battle hardened as the group that faced Australia at Ellis Park. In the end, the brains trust decided that sending these players to New Zealand to acclimatise was more important than playing them against Australia and then forcing them to cope with jet lag the following week.
While every decision and achievement at this point should be viewed in a World Cup context, it’s interesting to note exactly where the Boks stand on the Rugby Championship ladder.
As Frans Steyn pointed out on Saturday night, a Bok side missing a host of first-choice players managed to secure five log points in a contest against Australia. A win against the All Blacks this weekend would boost the Boks to nine or 10 points and improve their chances of winning the Sanzaar showpiece.
No team has won the Rugby Championship and the World Cup in the same year, and not much should be read into who wins this year’s truncated instalment.
On the other hand, winning the Rugby Championship would signify some progress for the Boks. They last won what was then called the Tri-Nations in 2009.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images