Jacques Nienaber’s Springboks travel across the English Channel on Sunday and on to Cardiff for a tour opener on Saturday against Wales, who have beaten the Boks at the Millennium Stadium four games in a row.
THE SPRINGBOKS have concluded a training camp in Paris, the venue for the 2023 World Cup which is now exactly two years away, and one of the necessities the Boks would have discussed as they cleverly enjoyed a taste of the venue is the need for consistency between now and that World Cup.
More specifically, there is the long-overdue need to win games they are expected to win as world champions but sometimes lose, and to outgrow the tendency of only winning big games when they are the underdogs.
A hallmark of Springbok rugby is that they are at their best when their backs are against the wall and the rugby world is casting aspersions on their quality. That is when the Boks are at their most dangerous but unfortunately, it has to be preceded by unexpected losses.
A perfect example is the recent Rugby Championship when the Boks – despite so many cautionary tales regarding complacency – twice lost to Australia, who on both occasions were rank outsiders.
The Boks were subsequently written off ahead of the Centenary Test against the All Blacks only to deliver a rousing performance that should have resulted in victory, and then they did get it right a week later in the 101st encounter between the rivals.
Speaking of the All Blacks, the reason why they are perpetually the No.1 team in the world and the most respected is because they consistently live up to their reputation – they are expected to win every game and they invariably do despite their opponents producing a “cup final” effort because of the stature of their opponents.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber knows this and recently stressed the following: “We’ve got an experienced side but we still have a lot to learn about being champions and getting to that point where New Zealand was when they won 88 of 100 games.
“That is a consistency we’re still striving to get into our game and we’ll have to do it quickly over the next couple of years.”
And the perfect starting point for that quest is to follow up that last Rugby Championship win over the All Blacks with an unbeaten tour of the United Kingdom. The Boks travel across the English Channel today (Sunday) and on to Cardiff for a tour opener on Saturday against Wales, who have beaten the Boks at the Millennium Stadium four games in a row.
An under-strength Wales team on Saturday were smashed 54-16 by the All Blacks but they will have their seven England-based players available this week for the Boks (as the November international window opens) and with a host of British and Irish Lions in their team, they will fancy their chances of toppling the Boks, but if Siya Kolisi’s team could beat a much stronger team in the Lions, they should beat Wales.
Next is Scotland, a tricky side packed with former South Africans but it is a game the Boks will be expected to win with a reasonable degree of comfort.
The tour finale against England at a sold-out Twickenham will approach the intensity of the recent double-header against New Zealand, and indeed that of the World Cup final between these teams two years ago, but if the Boks could beat England and the All Blacks, they will be favoured to win this one.
And reminding the Boks of the need to embrace expectation will be none other than their talisman, Rassie Erasmus, who will celebrate the end of his misconduct hearing on Sunday by joining the team for the tour after having removed himself from the Rugby Championship because he did not want his spat with World Rugby to distract the players.
Flyhalf Handré Pollard was candid in his assessment of the director of rugby’s influence
“Rassie hasn’t been as hands-on with us of late because of the World Rugby court case and all that referee stuff,” Pollard said on Friday before his game for Montpellier against Lyon. “But it’s going to be great to have him back … we really missed him.
“He’s got a funny way of getting the best out of us.”