The quality of performance will be just as important as the result when the Springboks tackle the Wallabies this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
We're yet to see the best of the Springboks in this year's Rugby Championship. Injuries have robbed them of experience in key positions, and have also impacted on the team's synergy. And yet, the Boks have still managed to win two from two and currently top the tournament log.
Heyneke Meyer will say that a win is the only objective in Perth this week. It's a statement that is fair in the sense that a record of three from three will see the Boks well placed in the context of the Rugby Championship race. That being the case, they would remain in the running for the title even if they lost to the All Blacks in Wellington.
It's also worth noting that away wins against the Wallabies have been hard to come by over the past five years. Even the great Bok side of 2009, which beat the British & Irish Lions and the All Blacks (three times in succession), lost to the Wallabies in Brisbane.
That said, Meyer's charges need to show more ambition in Perth this Saturday. A win is expected, but so too is a sharper performance.
In 2013, the Boks hammered the Wallabies 38-12 in Brisbane. It was a result that not only extended their unbeaten record in the Rugby Championship, but made a statement regarding their status in world rugby.
I was in Auckland for the Boks' next Test against the All Blacks. I recall the remarkable sense of anticipation in both camps during the buildup. There was excitement, as world rugby would finally witness a contest between two genuine heavyweights. There was also a touch of concern that the Boks would end the All Blacks' long run at Eden Park.
Nobody would have forgotten the awful anticlimax in the game itself, when referee Romain Poite wrongfully ejected Bismarck du Plessis and killed a potentially epic contest. But the point stands: going into that match, the Boks believed that they could beat the All Blacks, and much of that belief stemmed from what they had achieved against the Wallabies in the preceding match.
The Boks of 2014 need to follow the same course. Two boxes must be ticked in Perth this weekend.
They've recorded two scrappy wins against Argentina, and while these matches have showed the team's mettle in pressure situations, the physical performances have been unconvincing. They may yet beat the Wallabies without making a physical statement, but then that will impact on the belief that they can beat the All Blacks in Wellington.
The pack needs to settle early and then build some momentum. It's easier said than done.
The front row combination of Beast Mtawarira, Adriaan Strauss, and Jannie du Plessis haven't played together in a Test since the 2013 Rugby Championship. The lock pairing is a good one of paper, but Eben Etzebeth and Victor Matfield have never played together in a Test match. Etzebeth has played just one competitive game in 2014, while Matfield is also coming back from injury. Marcell Coetzee will start at blindside flank in the absence of Willem Alberts, even though it's not his normal position.
However, the Wallabies would be foolish to regard this pack as weak. Rusty yes, but weak? Definitely not.
The Boks must show more ambition in Perth, and I mean that in the sense that they must lift their intensity and look to be more accurate in implementing their forward-oriented, territory-based approach. It was this effective blend of power and precision that yielded a four-try victory in Brisbane last year. A loose approach will only play into the Wallabies' hands.
If the Bok pack settles early, then the Wallabies could be in for more of the same punishment. World-class individuals such as Michael Hooper may cause the Boks a few problems, but as a collective, the Wallabies forwards are far from fearsome.
Five of the Wallabies forwards who started in Brisbane last year will start again in Perth this Saturday. The Boks won't take anything for granted, but they must view this as an opportunity to obtain some much-needed confidence.
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