Forget Six Nations champions Ireland, it’s a much-improved England side that will demand the best of the Springboks in 2014, writes JON CARDINELLI.
On Saturday, Ireland won their first Six Nations title since 2009. They didn’t play the most clinical rugby throughout the tournament, and they certainly enjoyed their fair share of luck in that decider in Paris.
Playing for Brian O’Driscoll provided them with the energy to go above and beyond. It was a special effort from what is, to be brutally honest, a limited team.
They may have pushed New Zealand close in Dublin last November, but I doubt they will rattle one of the big three southern hemisphere sides in 2014. They still lack the necessary composure to prevail in pressure situations, and their forwards have struggled when confronted with a pack of similar size and attitude.
Yes, they won in Paris this past Saturday, but it was a game they so easily could have lost. Indeed, France conspired to blow several scoring chances in the dying stages.
England, on the other hand, look to be a side on the up. The first-round loss to France may have cost Stuart Lancaster’s side the Six Nations title, but the forwards made a statement in every subsequent match.
They beat the All Blacks at Twickenham in 2012 and came close to a repeat of that result in 2013. England continue to build, and while it could be too much to ask for them to travel to New Zealand at the end of their season and win a three-game series this June, they will take some beating when the southern hemisphere giants venture north in November.
The Boks will play Ireland, England, Italy and Wales on their tour to Europe. Going by what’s transpired in the recent Six Nations, and over the past 12 months, England will pose the biggest threat to the Boks.
Ireland lost a quality player to retirement this past Saturday, and while they still possess a few more in Paul O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip and Gordon D’Arcy, it’s fair to say that these players are not as influential as they once were. It would surprise to see South Africa losing to this Ireland side in November. And the Boks have improved a great deal since they last visited Dublin in 2012.
Heyneke Meyer’s charges have won six out of six in Europe, beating Wales, Scotland, and France on the 2013 tour. Wales and Scotland will visit South Africa this June, and going by their Six Nations form, the Celts will struggle to make an impression.
The Boks cruised to a comfortable victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium last November. The Dragons have regressed since then, losing to England and Ireland in this year’s Six Nations and ultimately relinquishing their title as the kings of the north.
They will also be touring South Africa this June without their brilliant goal-kicker Leigh Halfpenny, who sustained a long-term injury in the defeat to England.
Scotland gave South Africa a fright in Nelspruit last June, but the Boks still managed to win that bout 30-17. A lesson was learned, and the Boks will never take the Scots lightly again.
A win against the All Blacks may be the priority in 2014, but the Boks will know that the European tour following the Rugby Championship will present another defining test in the shape of England.
Lancaster’s men have made a statement in the Six Nations, and despite Ireland’s title victory, it is England who will lead the charge for a southern hemisphere scalp in 2014.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images