The Springboks are fully aware that they face the possibility of being drawn in a potential ‘pool of death’ for the 2019 World Cup due to their decline down the world rankings.
Last weekend’s first-ever loss to Italy cost the Boks two full rankings points and saw them slip from fourth to fifth, behind Ireland.
World Rugby recently confirmed that the next World Cup draw will be held on 10 May in Japan, meaning the Boks will only have this Saturday’s season-ending Test against Wales to alter their world rankings.
Although Ireland are only 0.97 points ahead of the Boks, and could lose ground if they suffer a defeat to Australia this weekend and South Africa beat Wales, there is still every chance they could improve their rankings again during the 2017 Six Nations.
As it stands, the top four teams will be divided into separate pools, with New Zealand, England and Australia currently holding positions of ascendancy in the top three.
There is also the possibility that the Boks could slide further down the rankings should Wales, Scotland or France enjoy a strong Six Nations campaign, with these teams all currently less than three rankings points behind South Africa.
When the draw was done for the last World Cup, Wales were ranked ninth, and as a result joined England and Australia in a ‘group of death’, but ultimately progressed to the knockout stage at the expense of the hosts.
Argentina could encounter a similar scenario considering they are currently ranked ninth. In fact, it leaves the possibility that the Pumas, All Blacks and Boks could be drawn in the same group.
It’s yet another costly byproduct of the Boks’ abysmal 2016 season, which has seen them slip to seven defeats in 11 Tests.
Ahead of this Saturday’s Test against Wales, Allister Coetzee acknowledged that they were aware of the rankings permutations.
‘We want to get back into the top four of the rankings ahead of next year’s World Cup draw, because we do not want to suffer the fate of England when they had two other top teams in their group. This week is more mental than physical for the players, and I will give some guys a chance after having gone for continuity against Italy.’
Ultimately, it may be too little too late for the Boks despite the later window for the draw having been approved by the World Rugby council in November last year in order to enable greater opportunity for teams to secure the best-possible rankings place and banding for the draw.
Twelve of the 20 participating teams have already been determined, with Argentina, Australia, England, France, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales automatically qualifying courtesy of finishing in the top three of their pools at the 2015 World Cup.
The remaining eight teams will be determined via the global qualification process that kicked off earlier this year.
Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images