Rugby Championship

Boks: Where to from here

2014-10-05 21:30
Johan van Graan and Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Satisfyingly victorious in successive home Test matches against toughest rivals Australia and New Zealand, the Springboks will be eager not to surrender any late-year oomph in their traditional November pilgrimage to the northern hemisphere.

It is never an ideal undertaking at the end of a typically arduous calendar year, and will remain so until the day – if it ever comes – that a better deal is found for all countries under a “global season” principle.

But a four-match tour is up in lights on the fixture list anyway, featuring matches on successive weekends against Ireland, England, Italy and Wales in that order.

The Boks earned 100 percent records in each of their prior European treks, in 2013 and 2012, and getting good results again would be especially useful and morale-boosting considering the UK-staged World Cup toward the end of next year.

There has been speculation in recent weeks that coach Heyneke Meyer will rest certain tired troops for the venture, but as former mastermind Nick Mallett pointed out in the SuperSport studio after the momentous 27-25 triumph over New Zealand at Ellis Park on Saturday, circumstances may be different for the Euro trip this time around.

The key thing in that regard is that it seems SARU, as reported on Sport24 on Friday, will largely stick to its guns for a change this year and keep the vast majority of current Boks out of the Currie Cup knockout phase; confirmation ought to be imminent.

Maybe you will see reasonably peripheral, rookie squad figures like Warren Whiteley (Lions) and Damian de Allende (WP), who have mostly carried tackle bags in recent weeks, filtered back into the last three weeks of the domestic competition, but greatly less likely is that flogged-to-death horses like the heroic Duane Vermeulen, Jean de Villiers, the Du Plessis brothers, Tendai Mtawarira, Victor Matfield and others will suddenly don provincial colours for the 2014 run-in.

If that sensible course is steered, then the various stalwarts mentioned will have the rare luxury of four Saturdays off before the tough first game of the tour against the Six Nations champions in Dublin on November 8, and it may be enough in many cases to discover a second wind.

Ireland are fifth on the IRB rankings, whilst England, the Boks’ next opponents at Twickenham, are fourth ... it’s a reminder that the first half of the tour schedule seems considerably the more perilous; South Africa need to hit the ground fresh, focused and properly staffed.

More traditionally, already fatigued senior Springboks who play in the Currie Cup final have only one one free weekend, if they are lucky, ahead of the first Euro assignment so it is a notable difference if a new dispensation for the next few weeks – allowing for some priceless out-of-competition conditioning -- does take root.

Despite pleasingly burgeoning depth available in many positions, Meyer will not be terribly keen to throw an “experimental” bunch of callow players at either of the Dublin or London matches; it may be more tempting to shake up the mix a bit against the modest Italians, say, further up the tour drag.

But the Boks, now very much entrenched again at No 2 in the world and clearly among the hot World Cup favourites, will certainly target a four-out-of-four record in November.

Not only will they have clawed back a bit of the gap now between the still supreme All Blacks and themselves on the rankings, but the maiden Castle Rugby Championship win for Argentina over third-placed Australia later on Saturday will solidify the Boks’ hold on the No 2 berth.

For now, all of the Bok squad and their supporters should simply bask in the very fact that they finally got a monkey off their backs by pipping the New Zealanders -- just about deservedly, too – in the Big Smoke.

It is futile and ill-advised to mutter a few “if onlys” in suggesting South Africa might well have won the Championship but for events like the controversial late reverse in Perth.

On the yardstick of the entire tournament -- not to mention how very close they came to toppling the Boks in the Johannesburg dead rubber for them -- the All Blacks deserved to retain the trophy: when they won matches, it tended to be with quite a lot to spare.

That said, it is also a tad misleading that in sections of the NZ media on Sunday, they were praising how close Richie McCaw’s side came at Ellis Park with a “heavily depleted team”.

Yes, they were missing key customers like Dan Carter, Brodie Retallick, Wyatt Crockett and Ma’a Nonu, but perhaps overlooked that the Boks were also not at fullest staffing: their absentees at present include the likes of Jaque Fourie, Fourie du Preez, Francois Louw and Willem Alberts.

Not that a sour-grapes attitude seems to be prevailing in the Land of the Long White Cloud after another epic contest between distinguished rivals.

There was also generous recognition for the upward strides being made by the Boks under Meyer’s astute tutelage, and how their hitherto inferior backline play is likely to benefit for years to come by a strong and skilful young flyhalf in Handre Pollard who relishes taking the ball to the line ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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