It is not the South African way to go sifting for positives in the aftermath of comprehensive defeats – but there are quite a few after the Rugby Championship defeats to Australia and New Zealand.
However, the Boks have been drowned out by a wave of “Springboks must fall” calls, in the boldest call since Nick Mallett said test tickets were too expensive.
Most people have forgotten how close the defeat (23-17) to the Wallabies was, and at a venue where the Boks traditionally don’t do well. The main reason for that defeat was because the Boks sat back after a good start and thought they could defend a lead. It was a confidence issue.
With the situation as dire as it is, and 50 000 rabid Bok fans being present at Loftus, the Boks are highly unlikely to be on their heels come the last 20 minutes.
The game against the All Blacks was another one where it was forgotten that the Boks were in it for 50 minutes before the hosts did what they’ve been doing to everyone this year – pull away.
It should be remembered that in both games, the Boks were well in it before losing.
The best and the worst part of Springbok rugby is that they deliver their best performances when they are under the pump. And on very few occasions have they been more with their backs to the wall than now.
The rugby at Loftus will be aggressive, hard-nosed and safety first, which will make life for the Wallabies – who themselves aren’t that confident at the moment – a whole lot more difficult. Think Rustenburg against the All Blacks in 2006, Twickenham against England in the same year and Port Elizabeth against the All Blacks in 2011. It’ll be that kind of game.
Aussie state of mind
Just over a year ago, the Wallabies were finalists in the World Cup, only to see the same factors that got them there contribute to sinking them in five successive defeats thereafter.
A year ago, playing two open sides in the back row was revolutionary. Now, it’s being singled out as one of the main reasons the Aussies are not doing so well. We talk a lot about how the Boks haven’t settled on a style, so how confused must the Aussies be about theirs?
Sure, two successive wins against the Boks and Argentina would have restored their faith a little, but it’s only a veneer of confidence.
There’s only one team that can pull away from the Springboks at altitude, and that’s the All Blacks. For the rest, altitude is a real factor in the final quarter of the game.
This is especially so when it comes to the Aussies, whose last-minute win in Bloemfontein a few years ago was their first at altitude in years.
Coupled with the travel factor, the Aussies should brace themselves for more, playing at altitude.
The Bok squad changes
Regardless of whether Elton Jantjies gets dropped, which should be the case, it won’t necessarily be a fly half who wins the day.
The return of Willie le Roux and Julian Redelinghuys is more important. Le Roux, who is the one South African fullback who plays most like international fullbacks should – Johan Goosen isn’t a 15 – was probably discarded too soon.
And Redelinghuys’ return will help the Bok scrum give a steady platform to their backs.