While Heyneke Meyer’s charges have the potential to become the greatest ever Springbok team, they are presently not as balanced nor as formidable as the class of 2007, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Victor Matfield has been quoted widely over the past few days, declaring his intention to reclaim the Bok No 5 jersey and win the 2015 World Cup.
The decorated lock has never been afraid to express an opinion and his view has always carried considerable weight given his experience at the highest level and what he’s achieved in terms of opponents bested and tournaments won.
Matfield has gone so far as to publicly declare that the current Bok side is ‘the best ever and will take the trophy next year [at the World Cup in England]'.
His manner and record suggest he is a man to be taken seriously. However, this is an opinion that can’t be rooted in fact when you consider what the class of 2007 achieved, and what the class of 2014 has not.
The Boks made a statement during the group stages of the 2007 World Cup, smashing England 36-0 via a well-rounded performance. As the tournament progressed and the team continued to grow, it became evident that they possessed the best pack in the competition, as well as a versatile back division that was further complemented by a world-class goal-kicker in Percy Montgomery.
It was a team that boasted a perfect blend of veterans, established players in their prime, and several talented youngsters. It remains one of the most effective and successful outfits that South Africa has ever produced.
To compare the class of 2007 with the current Bok team is unfair and grossly premature. The former was a side at the peak of its evolution, the latter is a team still building towards this perfection.
The Boks finished the 2013 season with an 83% win record, having successfully implemented a more balanced game plan. The depth in the squad was improved via some savvy selections.
And yet the simple fact remains that they finished the season behind the All Blacks, and have not beaten the world's top team over the past two years.
They have yet to win a Rugby Championship title, let alone a World Cup. So to reiterate, all comparisons to legendary sides of yore are premature.
To compare the class of 2007 with the current Bok team is unfair and grossly premature
It’s understandable why Matfield would make such a claim. The likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger, Ruan Pienaar, Fourie du Preez, Frans Steyn, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen were all part of the 2007 World Cup squad, and have added to their respective games since that monumental tournament in France. These players are still in the mix, and could well add value in the next two years.
But it should be remembered that the World Cup-winning teams of the past have enjoyed a good balance between youth and experience. The Bok team that plays in 2015 must boast a blend of both the young and old. This is what Heyneke Meyer will need to be wary of in the coming season.
That said, Matfield is right to feel enthused about the current team, and how they continue to grow under Meyer. Matfield is right to feel more than a little excited about what the future may bring for this particular group of Boks.
Du Preez, Fourie and Botha were all brought back into the Bok set-up in 2013 after spending an extended period out of the international game. Upon their return, they told anybody who would listen that the Bok structures were better than ever, and that the team culture was stronger than it had ever been before. Tellingly, each of these players volunteered this information without having to be asked.
Perhaps Matfield’s comment should be put down to excitement more than anything else. The year 2014 will be an exciting one for Meyer's Boks, and while there will be pressure to produce some big results, they are results well within reach.
As for greatness, all such talk will have to wait until the 2015 World Cup has reached its climax.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images