The Springboks’ Rugby Championship title hopes hang by a thread due to a couple of unfavourable results and a demanding travel schedule. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The All Blacks are back. Not that they ever left. There may have been a few doubts following their patchy showing against Samoa two weeks ago. But after a clinical showing against Argentina this past Friday, all fears have been allayed.
The All Blacks remain the best team in the world, and the favourites to win the 2015 Rugby Championship. They smashed the Pumas 39-18 in Christchurch last week, scoring five tries in the process. Five log points and a points difference of 21 see them in a commanding position after just one round.
The results of these Sanzar competitions are of little consequence in a World Cup year. History shows that no team has won the Tri-Nations as well as the global tournament in the same season. That said, all four teams are aiming to take some momentum into that tournament. The All Blacks certainly ticked the boxes of result and performance in Christchurch, and will come into their next clash against the Boks a stronger and more settled unit.
By contrast, the Boks are on the back foot. They looked dangerous at times in the Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane, but ultimately surrendered a 13-point advantage to lose 24-20.
Instead of banking four log points, they finished the contest with one. The upshot is the Boks are in third place on the Rugby Championship log. They will need to win their remaining two games, and then hope a few other results go their way, if they are to claim the trophy from here.
It was always going to be a challenge to travel to Australia for their opening fixture, and then travel back to South Africa a week later to face the best team in the world. The All Blacks may be flying in the same direction this week, but it’s significant that the Boks have traversed the Indian Ocean twice over the past seven days.
The result and manner of defeat in Brisbane may also impact on the Boks' energy levels. Had they produced an 80-minute performance and clinched victory at the Suncorp Stadium, the mood on the flight back to OR Tambo may have been very different.
Nevertheless, the Boks need to get up for the Test at Ellis Park, which is the biggest of their pre-World Cup schedule. This game is likely to be the last for many of the first-choice players before the global tournament. Those players won't be holding anything back.
Coach Heyneke Meyer has already suggested that many of the top players will be placed on a conditioning programme after the clash against the All Blacks. Fringe players as well as those returning from injuries will be given a chance to impress in the two games against Argentina.
The quality of the performance against the All Blacks will be important, but so too will the result. Meyer’s Boks have beaten the All Blacks just once in the past six Tests. However, that victory was achieved the last time the two teams met at Ellis Park in October 2014. Another win this Saturday, and the Boks will have won their last two matches against the No 1 side in the world.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has selected a strong squad for this Saturday’s match, and as results over the past few years confirm, this group holds no fear for South African grounds or conditions. Another win for the All Blacks is to be expected, perhaps even more so given the Boks have travelled so extensively over the past week.
And yet, if the Boks can overcome those odds and claim a victory this Saturday, it would prove a massive confidence boost with a view to the World Cup.
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