The Rugby Championship title is the All Blacks’ to lose following the result in Wellington on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The All Blacks beat the Springboks 14-10 at the Cake Tin to maintain their place at the top of the world rankings. The win against South Africa, New Zealand’s closest rivals, has also extended the All Blacks’ winning run at home, as well as their unbeaten record (21 Tests).
In the context of the 2014 Rugby Championship, the win in Wellington was massive. The All Blacks are now six log points clear of the second-placed Boks.
New Zealand will take an unassailable lead at the top of the table if they record a bonus-point win against Argentina in Buenos Aires on 27 September. That result would render the next meeting between the Boks and All Blacks in Johannesburg a dead rubber, at least as far as this year’s competition is concerned.
Going into this tournament, the Boks knew what they were up against. For the third year in succession, the draw dictated that they travel to to Argentina, Australia, and finally New Zealand in the space of four weeks. The odds were always against them beating the All Blacks in New Zealand in the final week of such a tour.
This is why they needed to bank 10 log points in the first two matches against Argentina, as well as a win in Australia. Only then would they go into the final two rounds with a chance of claiming that elusive title.
The hurricane that hit Loftus Versfeld during the opening game against the Pumas put pay to the Boks' four-try ambitions. The failure to bag five log points in the next match in Salta, however, was down to their substandard performance.
They travelled to Australia as a side under pressure. They battled gamely in Perth, and looked to have secured the win despite the unforgivably poor officiating of George Clancy. Had flyhalf Morné Steyn found touch in the 77th minute, the Wallabies would not have scored a last-gasp try and denied the Boks a deserved win.
Steyn kept the Boks in that game with his goal-kicking, but will regret that one failure to find touch. The upshot was that the Boks missed out on a win that would have kept their title dreams alive. Victory in Wellington was always unlikely.
The title is now the All Blacks’ to lose. The only way the Boks can stay in the running is if they beat the Wallabies in Cape Town with a bonus point. They will also need the Pumas to perform a small miracle in limiting the rampant All Blacks to three tries in the match-up in Buenos Aires.
But even if those two scenarios were to play out, the Boks would still have a lot to do in the final showdown in Johannesburg on 4 October. The All Blacks currently boast a points difference that is 50 points better than that of the South Africans. It’s been a long time since the Boks scored any kind of win against the All Blacks, let alone a win by a substantial margin.
The Boks’ title hopes are in tatters following the losses in Australia and New Zealand. And yet, perhaps it’s better that they forget about playing catch-up in the next two rounds. Perhaps it’s better that they concentrate on getting back to winning ways.
That final game against the All Blacks is likely to be a dead rubber in the context of the competition. However, in the context of the Boks’ poor record against the All Blacks and in the context of the 2015 World Cup, it’s important that South Africa pick up a win.
Since Heyneke Meyer took the coaching reins in 2012, the Boks have lost all five of their Tests against the All Blacks. They will want to go into the World Cup with at least one win against their arch-rivals, as it's likely that the two teams will meet at some stage in the play-offs.
They need to know they can beat the All Blacks, rather than just believe it's possible. The Rugby Championship trophy may be out of their reach, but with another opportunity to secure an All Blacks scalp looming in early October, there is still a lot to play for.
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