Boks in hunt, win or lose
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
See Heyneke Meyer's antics in the coaching box during a match.
Cape Town – While the lead-up has understandably been focused strongly around resumption at a very good time of the distinguished New Zealand-South Africa rugby rivalry, Springbok supporters should not lose sight of the fact that defeat in Auckland on Saturday hardly means curtains for the visitors’ Castle Rugby Championship prospects.
In short, the Boks are in firm contention for the 2013 title - and it will stay that way to a good degree even if they cannot break an Eden Park hoodoo that has dogged them since their last triumph at the stadium way back in 1937.
While it would be appallingly naive to venture that Jean de Villiers’s side are under “no pressure” – there’s always tons of the stuff when the Boks run into the All Blacks, regardless of immediate circumstance – perhaps South Africa can bank some comfort and a relaxed kind of motivation from the fact that even a defeat on Saturday (09:35 start, SA time) keeps them in the hunt for the premier southern hemisphere annual prize, one that has eluded them since the 2009 former Tri-Nations.
Will the Boks be spiritedly targeting victory? That goes without saying, for although the world champion All Blacks still warrant the favourites mantle, there can be no doubting that South Africa’s trampling of the Wallabies last weekend will have sent ripples of anxiety through the minds of rugby-mad New Zealanders.
All I am arguing is that in the present climate – with the Boks holding a one-point log lead over the All Blacks in the two-horse race, plus 47-point supremacy in for-and-against terms – a first loss in the 2013 tournament, particularly if it is a closely-fought one, would not amount to a train smash.
Without actually wishing that outcome, let’s imagine that the Springboks, who have not won in New Zealand in four Tri-Nations/Championship starts since their 2009 Hamilton triumph, are pipped on Saturday rather than slaughtered.
The last-named scenario would, I concede, hand the psychological edge in the Championship race right back to the All Blacks, but if the men in green and gold lost a nail-biter and were to deny their hosts a four-try bonus point while grabbing a losing one themselves, the New Zealanders would only assume the lead on the table by two points, and the Boks’ advantage in the points differential department would also not be harmed too greatly.
Under such circumstances, the Boks would stay tantalisingly in the race, with successive home matches against Australia and New Zealand to come, whilst the All Blacks are exclusively on the road: Argentina in La Plata and then the potentially decisive return clash with South Africa at Ellis Park on October 5.
Certainly at the midway mark of the 2013 competition, it is worth reminding just how much better off the Boks are than last year, when the sequence of matches was exactly the same.
On that occasion they were already in second behind the eventual NZ champions after three matches, with only a seven-point harvest – including a win, loss and draw – which put them five adrift of the All Blacks as they braced for the high-pressure Dunedin clash which they then lost anyway to fall further behind and all but wipe out their silverware prospects.
This time around, unbeaten South Africa have 14 points at the halfway house, to the New Zealanders’ 13 – the Boks have a little unusually earned two bonus points for scoring four tries or more to the All Blacks’ one.
The 2013 race looks firmly look going right to the wire, although wins cannot simply be taken for granted anywhere along the road and when the currently dishevelled Wallabies visit the Republic, it has to be remembered that they will be very relieved with the coastal location of Newlands (rather than one of their Highveld nemesis grounds) in their quest for a possible upset and revenge for events in Brisbane last weekend.
The most chipper view of all, from a Bok perspective, is a sensational triumph at Eden Park ... for if the visitors win a closely-fought contest and, say, pick up four points to the All Blacks’ one, that takes them four points clear overall and with their for-and-against mastery also only widening with just two rounds of Championship activity left ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing