Boks have mental mountain to climb

The Springbok leadership group will face its greatest challenge yet when the team fronts Australia in Brisbane, writes JON CARDINELLI.

It's been nearly three weeks since SA Rugby president Oregan Hoskins resigned. It's been less than a week since Bok captain Adriaan Strauss announced that he plans to retire from Test rugby at the end of the 2016 season.

Some have already declared that South African rugby has reached its lowest point. Infighting at administrative level aside, the results of the South African teams in the recent Super Rugby tournament as well as those of the national team over the past 12 months speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, there may be more disappointment and humiliation to come. Under Heyneke Meyer, the Boks slumped to first-ever losses to Japan at the World Cup and Argentina at home. We're five matches into Allister Coetzee's tenure, and the Boks have already recorded two more unwanted firsts in the form of a defeat to Ireland at home and a loss to the Pumas in Argentina.

And yet, the Boks may not have reached the nadir of this particular nightmare. If they lose to the Wallabies and the All Blacks over the next two weeks, they will finish their overseas leg of the Rugby Championship with three losses for the first time since the competition expanded in 2012. If they lose at Twickenham on 12 November, their 10-year unbeaten run against England will come to an end.

After three disappointing performances against Ireland in June, the Boks showed few signs of progress in the two matches against Argentina. It's hard to see them making the necessary adjustments and improvements over the next two weeks in Australasia. Indeed, their task will only become harder when they lose more of their key players to injuries.

The Boks aren't in the right mental space to beat the Wallabies in Australia for the first time since 2013. They certainly aren't in the right space to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time since 2009. The revelation that Strauss will retire at the end of 2016 cannot have helped the team morale.

Despite the current state of the Boks and South African rugby in general, it is the Wallabies who may be more desperate for success in Brisbane this Saturday. Australia have lost their last six matches, and the pressure to end that losing streak will be immense. The Wallabies will view the coming match against a tactically and mentally frail Bok side as a great opportunity to do so. They will be anything but complacent in their quest to claim that elusive victory.

Strauss's response will be important in the context of the match in Brisbane. The response of the senior players could be more important in the context of the matches that follow.

A win would provide the Boks with confidence and momentum going forward. It would signify a terrific fightback by a team that hasn't obtained a meaningful win away from home since the World Cup quarter-final against Wales last October. For that to happen, the senior players will need to stand up.

Of course, based on the showings of these senior players in recent months, there is little reason to feel confident about a rare win in Australia this Saturday.

The Boks find themselves in a hole, and the odds are against them climbing out any time soon. On the contrary, they may find themselves exploring new depths over the next two weeks.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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Jon Cardinelli