Less to be more for Boks?
Jean de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The Springboks possibly have a better chance than they realise in 2013 of either overhauling or significantly cutting New Zealand’s lead at the top of the IRB rankings.
Make no mistake, the All Blacks ought to stay desperately hard to unseat, especially as they remain the most complete and exhilarating team among the world’s leading powers.
Any of their major challengers for the No 1 slot will have their work cut out to nudge ahead: Richie McCaw’s outfit boast a lofty 90.08 ranking points, which gives them a handy cushion over the second-placed Boks and the Wallabies in third - the latter two, by contrast, are separated by mere fractions, SA’s 86.94 to the Aussies’ 86.87.
Nor will anyone be too fooled by New Zealand’s late-2012 comeuppance at the hands of a revved-up England at Twickenham: most astute pundits would concede that it was a rare fart, if you like, in an otherwise sweet-smelling perfume factory.
But if Heyneke Meyer
’s charges want any extra motivation to prosper this year, they should simply examine the now-confirmed full 2013 agenda facing them ... and then measure it against the schedule facing the All Blacks.
For undoubtedly, on paper, South Africa’s route is one strewn with far fewer potential potholes.
The very fact that the Boks’ programme of 12 games falls one game shy of New Zealand’s obligations is good news.
In 2012, the All Blacks played as many as 14 Tests - it is pretty justifiably offered as a key reason why they suffered that final-game, bridge-too-far England thumping - and that could almost have served as a dangerous precedent.
After all, the more unscrupulous and greedy of rugby’s bosses elsewhere might have been tempted to venture: if the mighty All Blacks can squeeze in 14, why the heck can’t we from now on?
So in that regard SARU is to be commended for sticking to last year’s formula of a dozen Tests for the Boks - with a bit of luck, considering the punishing annual first-class workload these days, that will henceforth be treated as a ceiling for our national side.
Again the saving grace of the roster, really, is that the Boks will play only three Tests on their traditional end-of-year tour “up north”.
This has occasionally been a debilitating four- or sometimes even five-Test undertaking in the past - and at a time of year when lots of players really are on last legs and in serious danger of bad, costly injury.
Shortly before they left for the relatively short and sharp 2012 mission, captain Jean de Villiers admitted to me that his team were likelier to retain mental freshness for the very reason that they would not be abroad for too long, and the incentive of a fairly decent holiday period then awaited them.
He was effectively saying that they were confident they could complete an unbeaten programme - as did occur, even if mostly by a whisker and not with the flashiest brand of rugby ever seen.
While the All Blacks will no doubt (barring some pronounced, unlikely slump ahead of it in the June window) be installed yet again as firm favourites for the roughly mid-season Castle Rugby Championship, the Boks’ broad itinerary outside of the away-and-home clashes with the toughest enemy doesn’t look overly formidable.
Their own June obligation, for starters, is that novel home quadrangular tourney also featuring relative minnows Italy, Scotland (minus any Lions players) and Samoa - anyone prepared to wager that the Boks won’t win three from three, and also not have the luxury of some judicious “rotation” of personnel?
By contrast, the All Blacks’ assignment in this period is a three-Test challenge (on gruelling, consecutive weekends) from dangerous France, whom they just held off by a point in the last World Cup final in 2011.
New Zealand, presumably, will seldom be able to drop their guard against the French. Even if, say, they were to really grill them in the first Test, these opponents are the type capable of bouncing back in dramatic, rousing style a week later.
Once the four biggest southern hemisphere powers have completed the second “Championship”, the All Blacks have to pick themselves up a fortnight later for that ridiculous case of overkill: an additional Bledisloe Cup tussle with the Wallabies, even if it amounts (as it well might?) to a dead rubber.
What’s more, their European trek also - arguably - looks a tad less forgiving than the Boks’: they must play France, current minor nemesis England, and Ireland, whereas the South Africans tackle a slightly wobbling Wales, Scotland and France.
It is true, of course, that the Boks have not beaten France in their own backyard since as far back as 1997, so winning that
one, at a venue yet to be decided, must be considered something of a priority this year.
As for the Wallabies, their fullest 2013 roster has not been officially announced just yet, but what their big rivals the Boks and All Blacks will know is that when the Aussies enter the Championship, it will be one of those rare instances where they will already have been fatigued, whether in victory or defeat, by the demands of a British and Irish Lions tour - a once-every-12-years main home event.
Yes, the Bok boots don’t look like bad ones to be in this year.
Now let’s just see if we can get those pizzazz levels up, shall we?Springbok 2013 fixtures: Incoming Tour:
Saturday, June 8 (Kings Park, Durban): Scotland v Samoa; Springboks v Italy
Saturday, June 15 (Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit): Samoa v Italy; Springboks v Scotland
Saturday, June 22 (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria): Team 3 v Team 4 ; Team 1 v Team 2Rugby Championship:
Saturday, August 17 (Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein): Springboks v Argentina
Saturday, August 24 (Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza): Argentina v Springboks
Saturday, September 7 (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane): Australia v Springboks
Saturday, September 14 (Eden Park, Auckland): New Zealand v Springboks
Saturday, September 28 (Newlands, Cape Town): Springboks v Australia
Saturday, October 5 (Ellis Park, Johannesburg): Springboks v New ZealandOutgoing Tour:
Saturday, November 9 (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff): Wales v Springboks
Saturday, November 16 (Murrayfield, Edinburgh): Scotland v Springboks
Saturday, November 23 (Venue TBC): France v Springboks*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing