Forget about World Cup

The Springboks' form at present has absolutely no relevance to their prospects at the World Cup, writes RYAN VREDE.

There was some mindless vitriol directed at the Springboks and their coaching staff after a narrow victory in Salta on Saturday. Some of the rhetoric bordered on idiocy. I'd class the suggestion that the Springboks' relative struggle in the opening games of the Rugby Championship is indicative that they'll fare poorly in a tournament that is over a year away. What utter nonsense. 

Even if they lost the remainder of their Tests this season there could still be no absolute conclusion made about their prospects in England. A week is often a lifetime in rugby, which then stands to reason that to accurately predict what will happen in a year from now is near impossible.

We can make informed guesses, but this wasn't the case on various social media platforms I engaged in during and after the match on Saturday. There I found a frighteningly large number of people predicting, with absolute certainty, the Springboks' World Cup challenge was doomed. 

Many of these people are likely to have said the same thing after the Springboks stuttered to victory in Mendoza in the identical fixture last season, only to then all but crown them world champions after their demolition of Australia in their very next fixture. 

This is the problem with the World Cup among a largely immature supporter base like ours – it's too often used as the definitive measure of the Springboks. What happens in the four-year cycle between tournaments is, for a large section of that support base, incidental, provided that the Webb Ellis Cup is lifted.

The Tests played between tournaments are but stops en route to the tournament and the closer we get to the destination the more heavily scrutinised those stops become. Let me simplify my point by way of example. If you've ever been to a holiday house you have never seen pictures (pre-internet era) of and make assumptions about its suitability based on the perceived quality of the surrounds as you get closer to it, you'll know what I mean. Sometimes the holiday home ended up being a beacon of beauty in an otherwise ugly environment and often it was as bad as you thought it would be. But you never knew until you got there.   

A World Cup campaign can be ended on a player's error, a poor decision from a referee, a single incorrect selection from a coach, an injury to a key player at a critical time before or in the match, a collective meltdown. I could go on to fill paragraphs listing more potential determinants of failure. A poor performance in Salta is not one of them. 

Lest we forget, Jake White's World Cup-winning Springboks were decidedly poor in the lead-up to the tournament in France before sweeping all before them. Only a brave few gave the 1995 World Cup-winning Springboks hope of claiming the title. The vast majority wrote them off based on their relative Test inexperience. Likewise, being on a hot streak year-on-year is no assurance you'll climb the victor's podium at the end of rugby's global showpiece. You only need to look at the pre-2011 All Blacks for evidence of that. 

The South African rugby public's reaction to a result must always be understood in the context of their expectation of the result. My sense, informed by listening to public commentary in the broadcast media and on various social media platforms, was that the expectation from the overwhelming majority was for the Springboks to take five points from Salta. This expectation was fuelled by some sports writers and broadcasters peddling it as a realistic outcome. On what basis? The Springboks' performance in Pretoria? Or perhaps a draw and fortunate victory in their two previous trips to Argentina? 

In sport, there are lessons in history. Emotion is the primary threat to heeding these lessons. A full-strength Argentina, at home, have traditionally been tough opponents for all but the All Blacks. Furthermore, to not acknowledge their excellent performance is an insult. Likewise, to predict a perilous World Cup for the Springboks based on the result is foolish, at best. 

There certainly are concerns that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer needs to address. Those should and will be done with the next fixture in mind, not dictated by World Cup planning.

Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP Photo

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