Cape Town – Forget for the time being the giant leap required to emulate or eclipse the All Blacks ... the Springboks need to think “baby steps” again as the Castle Rugby Championship returns to home soil against Australia at Loftus on Saturday (17:05).
In pure glamour terms, naturally the following week’s clash with the world’s runaway top-ranked power and already confirmed Championship winners in Durban overshadows the more immediate meeting with the Wallabies.
But the understandable obsession by the Boks - and others in the trailing pack - with “how do we possibly beat New Zealand?” has become too big a picture, if you like.
Ditto the great wish to “try to play the All Blacks’ way”.
Allister Coetzee’s embattled charges - rather at sixes and sevens tactically, which is only increasing their general vulnerability - need to reset their sights, instead, to slightly more humble goals.
A good start would be to unlock a method, regardless of whether it’s rank industrial or unexpectedly artistic, to just beat the similarly unsettled Aussies in Pretoria, not only preserving a proud unbeaten history against the Wallabies in the Jacaranda City but boosting their chances of at least ending runners-up in the four-nation competition.
Crash to a fourth successive Test defeat this weekend and the Boks will be in grave danger of finishing the tournament as the bottom-placed side for the second year in succession, even if the condensed 2015 version has to be regarded as largely experimental given its close proximity to a World Cup.
That would only endanger further their already unacceptable status to many of fourth on the global ladder behind the All Blacks, England and presently even the Wallabies.
Losing to the Australians in the Highveld heartland of South African rugby, frankly, would be a more painful knife through the neck than another reverse at the hands of the New Zealanders at Kings Park.
Given their traditional, overwhelming historical advantage over Australia at altitude, Bok fans just don’t accept playing second fiddle to the Wallabies there, and would be even less enamoured by the thought that the Wallabies outfoxing Adriaan Strauss’s men again would represent a fourth Aussie victory in the five most recent bilateral encounters.
It would certainly shout convincingly from the rooftops that the present Springboks are inarguably worse than a very mediocre Australian team - a pretty scary thought.
The Boks do still lead 45-36 in bilateral bragging rights, and by a particularly commanding 33-10 on home soil, something that the brains trust might do well to reinforce in the minds of the slightly fragile Bok charges, infusing them with extra urgency to get the job done, by hook or crook, on Saturday.
South Africa’s 6-0 record over these opponents at Loftus is a particularly striking one, almost always marked by at least reasonably convincing triumph, a situation reflected in a “for and against” situation of 192 points to 95.
Here are all the outcomes: 2012: SA 31-8; 2010: SA 44-31; 2005: SA 22-16; 2001: SA 20-15; 1997: SA 61-22; 1963: SA 14-3.
The Boks might also do well, ahead of this critical opportunity to rebuild some confidence and self-respect, to heed the words of respected English critic and former Test flyhalf Stuart Barnes, who was a guest on one of SuperSport’s rugby chat shows last week.
Barnes said one of the major reasons why Eddie Jones had made such an auspicious start to his tenure as England coach - marked by an historic 3-0 clean sweep in Australia in June - was that he wasn’t too preoccupied by the achievements of the All Blacks.
He said Jones had worked hard instead on maximising that nation’s existing strengths and very slowly creating new ones; they were not obsessing with much-trumpeted New Zealand “width” of play and had, in fact, earned notable early success by discovering a more urgent and dynamic game in more central channels on the park.
Barnes also warned against the Boks shifting away from too many of their traditional-strength areas in favour of a more helter-skelter, one-side-to-the-other approach.
The Boks don’t need to do too much that is “pretty” at Loftus.
They just need to beat Australia on the scoreboard, to start feeling better about themselves again …
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