Mission impossible for Boks?
Johannesburg - If history is anything to go by, the Springboks are heading off on a mission impossible as they head to Australia and New Zealand at the end of this week.
According to the supersport.com website, the Boks already have a magnitude of tasks to fulfil to get their game back on track after the poor showing in Mendoza last weekend, but coach Heyneke Meyer will face an unenviable task of playing at two of the most inhospitable venues for Springbok rugby in history and will have to overcome that as well as determined opposition if the Boks are to beat both sides for the first time since 2009 away from home.
If you had to look on it purely from a historical perspective, the Boks might as well hand over the flight tickets and concede the games as they haven’t won any of their nine previous games at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane while their last victory at the World Cup final venue of Eden Park was way back in 1937 - a startling 76 years ago.
Of course, there was the 18-all draw in 1994 at the famous Auckland ground but other than that, there hasn’t been anything resembling a success for the Springboks in the Antipodes in the Castle Rugby Championship or its former name, the Tri Nations.
Yet, there is a sense of optimism going ahead, particularly as Australia are currently struggling with their game plan, having lost the test series to the British and Irish Lions and now a double blow in losing the Bledisloe Cup as well over the past fortnight – with both their losses being more than comprehensive.
The Wallabies are likely to change their squad and approach somewhat for the Boks, but as always, the South African team simply need to concentrate on their own failings in Mendoza, particularly at the breakdown if they are to gain any success in the away leg of this year’s competition.
While it may be a bit unfair that the Boks are the only side who will face three consecutive away matches, these are odds that Heyneke Meyer and his coaching team will have to overcome.
But while the Mendoza result may have caused unnecessary unhappiness among Bok supporters, it could simply be the case of a bad day at the office, with a referee who allowed too much leeway at the breakdown, a stop-start game and a Bok side who seem to struggle in Argentina at the moment.
There is no doubt the Bok performance wasn’t anywhere near the standard needed for the Antipodes, but last year the Boks did a whole lot worse in Mendoza, then went on to narrow defeats in Australasia shortly afterwards. They led Australia at halftimes but couldn’t hold on while a goalkicker worth his salt in Dunedin would have ensured a famous victory for the Boks there.
So perhaps the glass isn’t as empty as supporters believe at the moment. It is true the expectation was probably too high after the annihilation of FNB Stadium and perhaps that affected the Boks as well. A sober look at the stats sees the Boks winning all their ball at setpiece – they never lost one of their nine scrums and nine lineouts on the day. Their performance at the breakdown was lethargic, with Ruan Pienaar’s pedestrian service part of the problem.
But despite all of that, they conceded only seven penalties on the day - in the face of intimidation of the worst kind.
The most worrying aspect was the performance of individuals on defence, their inability to adapt to both the referee and the way the opposition attacked them at the breakdowns.
With Michael Hooper waiting in Brisbane, the Wallabies will have taken note of the Bok frailties in this area, and will want to attack them in this area.
After all, against both Scotland and Argentina, the moments when the Bok pack looked at their most vulnerable, was when they didn’t control the breakdown area.
Considering Richie McCaw’s dominance in this past weekend’s test in Wellington for the All Blacks - he led his team’s stats in breakdown arrivals with 26, while making 14 tackles and five assists – things aren’t likely to be any easier in Auckland when they get there.
Mendoza provided a stark reminder that while things go well at home, away from the comforts of South Africa you have to be at your best in every game. That is nowhere more true than in the next fortnight in Brisbane and Auckland where this Bok team will face an acid test against the odds.
Last year they bounced back from the Mendoza disappointment to look better but were not quite good enough.
How they will bounce back from their Mendoza moment this time around is anyone’s guess. There is enough to work on to keep the Boks busy over the next fortnight.
The Boks can only answer this one – and they will have to on a mission impossible against the old enemies.