NZ’s chilling warning to Boks
Israel Dagg (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - With New Zealand having safely banked eight log points in the Castle Rugby Championship against arch-rivals Australia, the Springboks have to urgently ask themselves ahead of their return assignment against Argentina in Mendoza on Saturday night (21:10): will eight of our own be enough against Argentina?
It is a complex issue, because while very few teams can ever tackle the Pumas in their own den genuinely confident that they will even secure the basic victory, never mind any broader aspirations, the importance of nicking at least one bonus point against the tourney newcomers has also come into fresh focus.
Let’s face it, the World Cup champion All Blacks - already pretty clear favourites for the revamped southern hemisphere competition before it began - would be sitting especially snugly after completion of a third of the fixtures if the Boks can do no more in Argentina than draw level on points with Richie McCaw’s side on the ladder via a “no cherry on top” triumph.
So, having failed by an agonising one touchdown to get the four-try bonus point at Newlands last weekend, South Africa must somehow attempt to make up for it by striking out for a full house in Mendoza.
At least then, after completing arguably their two least daunting fixtures on paper, the Boks would have the minor psychological comfort of having their noses in front of an All Blacks side who have just retained the Bledisloe Cup for the umpteenth time and simultaneously finished their Championship obligations against a Wallabies outfit still ranked second in the world by a whisker.
The fixture list only gets tougher for the Boks, by contrast, after the Mendoza date, with four remaining fixtures against their established pair of SANZAR partners.
There is another incentive for Jean de Villiers and company to hit their straps in Argentina: according to the official IRB website, South Africa will move ahead of Australia into second by a fraction on Saturday night if they can beat the Pumas by more than 15 points.
Meanwhile, many observers and analysts both in New Zealand and elsewhere would only have been left suspecting the All Blacks will be desperately hard to outrun to the 2012 title, courtesy of their consummate 22-0 win against the Wallabies at Eden Park.
Don’t be too deceived by - or seek too much solace in - the fact that the home side only managed one try.
It was an illuminatingly convincing performance in most other respects, with the All Blacks moving up a discernible gear after their slightly more laboured, low-key victory a week earlier in Sydney.
In short, they did not give the Aussies (for whom Kiwi-born coach Robbie Deans must be coming under mounting pressure) a sniff in the game, as reflected by the unflattering “nil” to their scoring column.
You had to give the Wallabies some credit for their stubborn defensive resilience, under the circumstances, but otherwise it was sobering, one-way traffic.
“The whole game just seemed like sweeping movements of All Blacks,” Tri-Nations-winning former Springbok coach Nick Mallett said admiringly in the SuperSport studio.
Some consolation will be the knowledge that one of their essential backline string-pullers, Sonny Bill Williams, now bids goodbye to rugby union for the foreseeable future - he was no less influential in this swansong, though not necessarily permanently so, appearance.
“They’re going to miss Sonny Bill for his incredible pace over those first few yards despite his big size,” Mallett said, “and so often getting them over the advantage line and looking to offload.”
Co-pundit Naas Botha also made the point that New Zealand’s scrummaging consistency and power seems to have dipped a little, and that their lineout - with Keven Mealamu’s throwing-in wonky until his substitution - is another area the Boks may be able to target when they first run into the world champions this year in Dunedin on September 15.
Still, it was little comfort for many South Africans, fearful of whether the Boks can match their pace and verve, to hear McCaw say after the latest disposal of the Wallabies: “We’re half a pass away from getting (to peak form). We were better today, but by no means perfect.”
There is at least some onus on the Boks to produce suitable signs in Mendoza that they still belong in the same super-league ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing