Failure to beat the All Blacks would mean the Springboks have regressed significantly, writes RYAN VREDE.
This was supposed to have been the year the Springboks closed the gap on the world champions. A start would be beating them once. There is still the opportunity to achieve this at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Victory would dramatically transform the face of the Springboks' season. At present they've taken heavy blows – defeat to a weak Wallabies side in Perth and another stuttering performance against Argentina – and are on the ropes. There was the brave showing in Wellington and a rally against the Wallabies at Newlands last week. But the latter scoreline flattered them, papering over notable deficiencies. In this context, they should be desperate for at least four log points in Johannesburg.
Into his third year in his tenure, Meyer has yet to coach the Springboks to victory over the Blacks. There have been close calls, the aforementioned Test at the Cake Tin and last year's epic contest at one stage appeared to be the end of the drought, only for the Blacks to find a strong rebuttal. Yet going into into Saturday's Test, I am not convinced that this group of players have the goods to get the job done and whether Meyer is in the right mental frame of mind to coach them to that victory.
I have always admired his unwavering confidence in an approach that many deem to be pragmatic. When everything clicks within that tactical framework, his sides are formidable, and he knows this. However, his charges have struggled in their execution of this territory-based approach and thus exposed the approach as a whole to vehement criticism.
His belief in his preferred method has taken a battering, and at Newlands it appeared Meyer had bowed to public pressure, asking his team to run the Wallabies ragged. This failed miserably and the victory was secured off the back of a shift to a more direct approach and improved physicality at the gainline on attack and defence.
Meyer has hinted at a return to the fundamentals that saw his team lose only two Tests in 2013 (both to the Blacks) and this should make them more competitive this weekend. Whether they have the calibre of personnel to oust Richie McCaw's men is debatable. Nothing I saw from Oupa Mohoje at Newlands suggests he has a long Test future ahead of him. Francois Hougaard thrived in an open contest last week but his weaknesses will come under severe examination in a tighter pattern, while on their bench the prospect of Warren Whiteley running on (should Duane Vermeulen fail to recover from injury) won't strike fear into the hearts of the Blacks.
I'd be more confident of them finally snapping that losing streak, which dates back to August 2011, if the injury list – senior players Fourie du Preez and Willem Alberts among them – wasn't as extensive.
Ominously, the tourists won't be generous in their intensity and drive given that they've already wrapped up the tournament. History will reflect that they covet the Springboks' scalp irrespective of their log position.
Meyer's Bulls sides of the mid- to late 2000s were renowned for making emphatic statements when their backs were against the wall. Given the quality of player they had at their disposal, that was more easily achieved than it will be for a Springbok side shorn of many of their top names.
Still, they have to find something special from somewhere. Three defeats in a Rugby Championship campaign is not an acceptable standard for a side with ambitions of being the best in the world. Certainly, they need to beat the Blacks at least once this season for that ambition to have legitimacy. Failure to do so would constitute the type of regression that Meyer cannot justify.
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