The All Blacks are vulnerable and the Springboks must seize the moment to overrun their rivals in two Rugby Championship Tests in South Africa.
“These All Blacks are damn average,” wrote renowned rugby scribe Mark Keohane in his Sunday Times column. “Lesser Springbok teams have beaten better All Blacks teams in SA. Anything but an emphatic Boks win is a failure for the Bok coaches and players.”
Indeed, the All Blacks have touched down in the Republic to as many questions about off-field matters as there are about poor performances that led to a historic series defeat by Ireland in New Zealand in July.
The competency of coach Ian Foster has been cast in doubt as a result, and the unceremonious axing of his assistant coaches – including former Sharks mentor John Plumtree – has not been well received. The reaction to Foster’s dismal (by All Blacks standards) record stems from NZ Rugby’s decision in 2019 to ignore calls to appoint fan favourite and Crusaders coach Scott Robertson to the post.
In the three-Test series in July, Ireland recovered from losing the opener to clinch their first win on New Zealand soil and then backed it up to hand the All Blacks their first home series loss in 28 years.
“They lost at home to an Irish team that took a beating up front against France in Paris,” Keohane wrote. “They lost at home to an Irish team, whose starting XV included 10 Leinster players, who took a beating in Dublin against the Bulls in the URC semi-finals.
“The Irish pack that destroyed the All Blacks in every facet in Dunedin and Wellington included six of the starting pack from Leinster. Two more were among the substitutes. These are the same blokes who were throttled in Dublin by a Bulls pack that doesn’t have a starting player in the Bok eight.
“Right now, if we talk quality of squads, the Springboks must be expected to pump what has arrived in SA wearing black.”
“I would say, yes, I think that we are the favourites. I’m not one of those coaches who sits up here and says that they’re not sure,” the Bok coach said at the time.
South Africa responded with a 26-3 victory en route to winning the title and similar confidence and follow-through is required against New Zealand.
South Africa’s biggest margin of victory over the All Blacks came in 1928 – a 17-0 win in Durban. But never before in the professional era has an All Blacks team in such turmoil toured these shores to face a Bok team at the peak of its powers.
When the roles were reversed in 2017, the All Blacks beat South Africa 57-0. At that time, New Zealand were two-time defending world champions. The Springboks aim to match that feat in France next year, and Les Bleus, Ireland, England and Australia will be watching closely on Saturday to see how the Boks handle the favourites tag against their faltering rivals.