Boks to rock as All Blacks drop

Super Rugby form will have no bearing on the Springboks’ prospects in this season’s Rugby Championship, writes MARK KEOHANE.

I am still backing the Boks to edge the competition with the Wallabies the closest challenge. This will be the year the All Blacks drop a few games. They’re due a season with a couple of defeats, which will constitute a national crisis in New Zealand.

For now the focus is on Super Rugby and while South Africa’s stocks have looked a bit better with the surprising form of the Lions and the improving performance of the Bulls, I still see the Sharks as the only realistic play-off contenders. And even they may struggle if they lose a few more players to injury.

Team Super Rugby form is no indicator to the Boks. It also tells you little about the All Blacks and Wallabies.

The Chiefs, champions for the past two seasons, have few players in the current All Blacks run-on XV. That’s an indicator of the difference between Super Rugby and Test rugby.

South African player form appears shaky because of the poor results of the Stormers and Cheetahs in Australia and New Zealand, but the same is applicable for the Kiwi and Australian sides travelling to South Africa.

The Stormers and Cheetahs (who have finished their overseas travel for the league stage) are zero from seven.

The Hurricanes were zero from two in South Africa. The Reds were zero from two in South Africa. The Crusaders got a narrow win in Melbourne and the Aussies, by way of the Brumbies in Wellington and Force in Dunedin, have two wins in New Zealand. The Chiefs and Waratahs are in South Africa for the next few weeks and I’d be surprised if they pick up a win. Overseas travel remains tough when there isn’t much that separates the teams.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer will be encouraged with the first month’s performances from many of his established and emerging Springboks. More importantly, though, is how these players are performing in the last week of May.

Injuries will continue to batter the national coaches of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa because of the unrelenting schedule. It is the nature of the beast.

Sharks flyhalf Pat Lambie’s injury is a setback because he was finally looking world-class at flyhalf. Sharks lock Pieter-Steph du Toit is also a blow because of the valuable international game time he will miss. It is hoped Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth is back for the June internationals and the Rugby Championship.

The Sharks' all-Springbok front row haven’t been dominant but they will grow into the season.

Individually Sharks centre Frans Steyn has been the best of the backs and Stormers captain Jean de Villiers has also been good. Cheetahs fullback Willie le Roux has been a mix of wonderful and woeful but in a better team (like the Boks) he will play with more confidence and with more structure. Don’t be concerned about his inconsistency.

Morné Steyn will still be the starting Bok No 10 and if fit Bryan Habana will be on the one wing. Several European based players will slot into the Bok set-up and there will also be selections based in Japan. Bulls lock Victor Matfield’s return and improvement with each match has been significant and don’t dismiss the rehabilitation at Toulon of Juan Smith.

It’s looking good for the Springboks, if not for the majority of the South African sides.

Put your money on the Boks to go one better in this year’s Rugby Championship and know they’ll whip Wales and Scotland in the June internationals. Don’t be as liberal with your cash when it comes to the South African Super Rugby challenge.

Photo: Louis Botha/Gallo Images