Cape Town - A touch of instant perspective, please ... the
draw has just been made for who will play who upfront at the 2019 World Cup,
not a determination of who will be bowing out before the quarter-finals.
An almost inevitable theme of domestic paranoia, given the
Springboks’ 2016 annus horribilis, appeared to reign supreme on social media when
it was revealed from Japan on Wednesday that the national side will face the
defending-champion All Black juggernaut in Pool B at the premier event.
Yes, that creates the strong likelihood, based on present
form and related factors, that the Boks will instead be scrapping fiercely to
ensure second-placed finish among the five in their group and a berth in the
knockouts - something the twice-winners (1995 and 2007) have never previously
failed to land.
In that context, Italy being announced as the next most
significant threat to an onward Bok ticket isn’t the worst outcome, considering
that presently seventh-ranked South Africa scuttled wide of the Argentina
(placed in tough Pool C) “landmine”, thank goodness.
The Pumas would have been tougher nuts to see in the same
pool than the Italians, most will concur, not least because they are able to
boast reasonably recent maiden victories at home (2016) and away (2015) over
the Springboks, and are sharpening their act progressively in the form of the
Jaguares in Super Rugby.
There is also the fillip that the Boks, even if beaten by
their fiercest traditional rivals from the Land of the Long White Cloud during
pool play, would only next run into them in a possible final.
Now call me the haplessly blinkered optimist if you insist,
but I am also quite adamant in my belief that when aforementioned Italy earned
their own, first ever Bok scalp (20-18) in 13 attempts in Florence late last
year, it was during what can only be described as a nadir period for the
And by definition - “the lowest point in a situation” - it
is impossible to be in any deeper dwang than a nadir.
Losing had become cultural among Allister Coetzee’s charges
by then; despondency, tactical uncertainty and selection instability ran
extraordinarily deep in the squad representing this supposed superpower of the
The reverse also came, although this is not offered as any
special excuse, at the very back end of the calendar year, when southern
hemisphere limbs are sore and hearts yearning for beach and braai even if
results on an end-of-year northern trek happen to be all dandy, by contrast.
To be frank, if such levels of routine ineptitude and
sterility are emulated at any stage during the course of the 2017 Test
campaign, then I find it hard to believe that the already precarious Coetzee
will still be at his post come RWC 2019, which is still well over two years
That time gap to the tournament is enough for things to
change - even violently, spectacularly - for any nation contemplating the
latest edition of the World Cup.
In fairness to Coetzee and his closest confidantes, maybe
they have spiritedly absorbed lessons from the near-unrelenting 2016 anguish
and are diligently working toward a more purposeful, better-plotted and
well-defined upward curve this year (even if a great many critics out there are
clearly already prepared to adopt a much bleaker view).
Bear in mind also that just a year in rugby can either be a
conspicuously long time, or staggeringly short one.
In 2006, for example, the year before the Springboks earned
their second hold on the Webb Ellis Cup, they were in a wretched state at
various times, with further RWC success seemingly a million miles away.
That decidedly choppy campaign included a 36-26, and
four-tries-to-one, humiliation at the hands of France at Newlands, the utterly dispiriting
49-0 debacle against the Wallabies in Brisbane, a 19-point loss to the All
Blacks in the Pretoria heartland and two losses from three on the European
The World Cup draw for 2019? It is what it is.
In the meantime, there are some 28 months for the Springboks
to assemble a combination potent, decisive and determined enough to make a fist
of RWC 2019, whoever stands in their way in Japan itself.
I wouldn’t bother too much with the butterflies just yet.
Rugby World Cup 2019 pools:
Pool A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Europe 1, Play-off winner
Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Africa 1, Repechage winner
Pool C: England, France, Argentina, Americas 1, Oceania 2
Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Oceania 1, Americas 2
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