The Springboks need 10 log points from the two Tests against Argentina if they are to take a commanding lead in the Rugby Championship title race, writes JON CARDINELLI in Pretoria.
Publicly, Heyneke Meyer will say that the equation is simple. Six wins are what stand between the Boks and the Rugby Championship title. Bonus points be damned.
But the equation is never simple, not when the All Blacks are involved, and not when you've been handed an unforgiving draw.
Privately, Meyer has complained about a schedule that sees the Boks touring Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in the space of four weeks. It's a big ask to travel across 20 time zones during a period of less than 30 days and still operate at optimum efficiency.
The Boks are at a disadvantage if you consider that they will play against the Wallabies and All Blacks in Australasia before they host these teams in South Africa. They will also be hard-pressed to produce their best rugby against the All Blacks in Wellington, as this game is scheduled at the end rather than at the beginning of their overseas tour.
While all but one of the venues are different, the Boks' 2013 and 2014 Rugby Championship schedules are identical in terms of travel demands. Something needs to change if they are going to win the tournament this year, and they certainly can't leave themselves with too much to do in another potential showdown with the All Blacks in Johannesburg.
In 2013, the Boks scored two bonus-point wins, one against Argentina in Johannesburg and one against Australia in Brisbane. They would come to regret missing out against Argentina in Mendoza, or indeed falling one try short of a full house in the Test against Australia in Cape Town.
The Boks need to be more ruthless in 2014. We’ve already witnessed some sharp displays against Wales and Scotland, but the Rugby Championship is the tournament in which excellent execution and finishing can mean the difference between four and five log points.
They have to fire against Argentina this Saturday. They need to carry that momentum through to the next game in Salta, and ultimately finish the first part of their Rugby Championship campaign with a full house of 10 log points.
Meyer and his coaches will play down this ambition in the coming days, but there's no getting around the fact that Argentina are the weakest of the four teams. A fixture involving the Pumas should be targeted not only as a must-win, but a must-win with a bonus point.
It's always tougher to play in Argentina, as the Boks have been made to realise on their two most recent tours. Perhaps they went into those games with the wrong attitude, and that contributed to their poor performances. In 2014, a shift in mindset as well as a lift in standard will be required. There should be no doubt that if they play with the necessary intensity, they can bag a bonus-point win against a plucky but limited Pumas outfit.
Meyer and captain Jean de Villiers have spoken about raising the bar in the coming weeks. It won’t be easy for a team that’s lost peerless performers such as scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and No 5 lock Victor Matfield to injuries.
Nevertheless, there is sufficient talent in reserve, and the Boks should back themselves to reach their 10-point objective. Big wins in Pretoria and Salta will send a powerful message to the Australasians, and ensure that the Boks stay in touch with the likes of the All Blacks as far as bonus points are concerned.
The winner may again be decided in that final fixture between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park. It’s imperative that the Boks do enough during the early stages of this tournament to avoid chasing the log, rather than a straight win, in what could be another season-defining game.
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