The result in Wellington has increased the Springboks’ chances of winning the Rugby Championship and beating the All Blacks at the World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Rugby Championship title doesn’t matter in a World Cup year. How many times have we heard that over the past decade or so?
The Wallabies won the Tri-Nations in 2011 and the Rugby Championship in 2015. Nobody remembers or cares, though, because the All Blacks went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on both occasions.
This year, the focus is on the 2019 World Cup. Each coach has more or less admitted that the preceding Rugby Championship – which has been reduced from six to three matches – amounts to little more than a dress rehearsal for the global tournament.
That said, would a Rugby Championship title mean nothing to a South African team that has known nothing but disappointment over the past 10 years?
It’s been a decade since John Smit’s side won what was then called the Tri-Nations. Since then, the national side has had absolutely nothing to celebrate in terms of international title success.
Rassie Erasmus and company should not adjust their World Cup plans in the wake of the recent 16-16 draw in Wellington. They would do well, however, to acknowledge that they are within touching distance of the country’s first title in 10 years.
The Boks thumped the Wallabies 35-17 in the first round of the Rugby Championship to claim a full house of five log points. Meanwhile, the All Blacks battled to put the Pumas away in Argentina and finished the round at second on the table with four log points.
On Saturday, the Boks snatched a late draw to maintain their slender lead at the top of the log. With one round remaining, the Boks are on seven points and the All Blacks on six.
The Boks will remain in Auckland during the bye week to prepare for their next clash with Argentina in Salta. They will in all likelihood use that time together to plan and prepare for a World Cup tournament which will commence in less than two months’ time.
The Wallabies could do the Boks a favour in Perth on 10 August. If Australia beat New Zealand, and if South Africa go on to beat Argentina later in the day, then the Boks will finish at the top of the log and win the Rugby Championship title.
If the All Blacks beat the Wallabies, they will move up to 10 log points. If they secure a bonus-point win, they will finish on 11.
At this stage, the Boks have the better points difference (18 versus the All Blacks’ four). They’re in a strong position given that they will know exactly what’s required to win the Rugby Championship before kick-off in Salta.
In another sense, Erasmus may feel like he and his team are the big winners after the recent game in Wellington.
The Boks beat the All Blacks at the Cake Tin last year. They pushed New Zealand close in the subsequent game staged at Loftus Versfeld.
They may have beaten the All Blacks in Wellington this past Saturday if not for their poor execution in the first half. That said, they showed good composure to fight back and snatch a draw at the death.
That result – and the manner in which it was secured – will echo through to the World Cup.
The Boks have not lost to the All Blacks in New Zealand since Erasmus took the reins in 2018. In the three games played during that period, they’ve won one, drawn one and lost one against the world’s No 1 side.
While both teams may have been holding something back in Wellington – in terms of first-choice selections and tactics – the fact remains that the Boks have gone toe to toe with the All Blacks in all three of the recent matches and have been in a position to win all three.
On that basis, they have every reason to believe they can upset the All Blacks in the Pool B match in Yokohama on 21 September and that they can strengthen their chances of securing an easier path through the World Cup playoffs.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images