Boks in UK
All Black hype might aid Boks
Cape Town - Flying a little beneath the radar could be more of an ally to the Springboks over the next three weeks than they possibly realise.
Like it or not, they and a similarly under-strength, potentially vulnerable Australian outfit are being regarded in the United Kingdom as clearly the poorer of the three most established southern hemisphere “cousins” touring north of the equator this November.
All the fuss, certainly in media terms, seems to revolve around New Zealand - and an obsession with the All Blacks is largely understandable when you consider that they are the World Cup champions, still comfortably head the IRB rankings and also swept all comers aside to romp to the inaugural Castle Rugby Championship crown earlier in the year.
The SANZAR superpower sides will have several opponents in common during the latest “Test window” period, but also some differences in itinerary terms - the Boks are the only team of the three, for example, not to be playing any matches on the European mainland this time as their programme only involves Ireland (this Saturday), Scotland and England respectively.
And yet it is the All Blacks who are being widely trumpeted as the main course, if you like, on the autumn Test roster in the northern hemisphere.
A preview piece on the busy, imminent Test period a few days ago in the Daily Telegraph by rugby scribe and former Lions and England lock Paul Ackford, for instance, was headed: “Can anyone take down the All Blacks in autumn Tests?”
He made the valid point that the All Blacks, who will also take a fuller arsenal of established players on tour than both the Boks and Wallabies could muster, “never seem to be rebuilding ... they always arrive fully formed and firing”.
Ackford went on to suggest that one defeat on their four-game agenda would probably be the very worst-case scenario for the New Zealanders.
“One of Wales, England and Scotland might get lucky, but it will be a significant surprise if the All Blacks lose a brace of games.
“As for the other two big southern hemisphere noises, Australia and South Africa are far less assured, far more vulnerable to getting picked off - England should defeat both.
“It’s the boys in black who are the big challenge. Can anyone take down the world champions?”
That very question is significant, because it arguably indicates just how hell-bent some of the northern powers will be on lowering the All Blacks’ colours, and perhaps inadvertently take their foot off the pedal as a result when the Boks rumble into town.
Subconsciously, the Boks and Wallabies may be under-estimated ... or be the beneficiaries, in some instances, of taking on
certain Home Union teams very shortly after they have thrown the kitchen sink - whether productively or not - at New Zealand.
When the Boks tackle Scotland in Edinburgh, for example, it will be only six days after their hosts have encountered New Zealand so, win or lose, there is sure to be some significant mental and physical fallout for the Scots to grapple with from the week before.
On paper, the South African fixture at Murrayfield shapes up as possibly the “easiest” of their trio, but that was also the case in the previous northern hemisphere tour in 2010, when the Boks instead came unstuck (their only reverse, ironically) in the freezing fog, mud and driving rain.
So revenge will be a powerful driver for several Bok stalwarts, even if it is also true to say that there aren’t too many of them left standing after a year of almost unprecedented, virtually non-stop intensity.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer
might do well to remind his troops - for all the absenteeism, his squad is still healthily stocked with genuine talent, for the most part - of the lopsided local fixation with the All Blacks, and use it as a collective motivator.
Ackford’s suggestion that England “should beat” South Africa obviously has certain merit, considering that Twickenham isn’t exactly the hostile, faraway Highveld, for instance, to the home side.
But it also overlooks the fact that the Boks do remain (in third) a notch higher than the English on the IRB rankings as things stand - teams universally will be scrambling for good World Cup 2015 seedings over the next few weeks - and saw them off comfortably enough, without experiencing a loss, in the three-Test home series in June.
Even if England have improved since then (and there is no compelling reason to suggest they have?) “Twickers” has been a reasonably rosy hunting ground for the Boks in recent seasons and they need not approach the November 24 date with any special trepidation.
Meyer enters this three-Test challenge rightly under pressure to improve his win percentage, but give him his due: there are few, if any, palpably lame-duck selections in his squad, and that despite the formidable number of candidates who could not be considered.
Even if the Boks taste one - or an admittedly more worrisome two - defeats on tour, it is unlikely there will any true “video nasty” along the way to compare with 2002, say, when Rudolf Straeuli was going through a disconcerting every-Tom-Dick-and-Harry phase in cap-awarding terms, and South Africa crumpled 53-3 to England at Twickenham with such controversial international selections as Friedrich Lombard, Norman Jordaan and Wessel Roux in the mix.
Frankly, for every glass-half-empty pundit fearing the Boks could go winless in all three matches, there will be at least a chipper few believing a 100 percent record is well within the realms of possibility.
If you had to ask me which way I lean on that particular seesaw, it is definitely more toward the latter, for the record ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing