Call me eternally optimistic but I think the Springboks can beat New Zealand at Newlands.
But ... and here’s the but ... it will be more because of New Zealand’s lack of desire than anything else should the Boks win.
The occasion is all set up for a South African victory.
The desperation is with South Africa. The match is an ‘after the fact’ Test for the All Blacks. They’ve already won the Rugby Championship and the bigger picture for Steve Hansen is the end of year tour to the Northern Hemisphere.
There’s also the irritation of playing another ‘after the fact’ Test against the Wallabies in the guise of a Bledisloe Cup match that the All Blacks have also already won this year.
How does a player get up for a match in a competition that has already been won? The intention will always be to put everything on the line but the mindset is always different from a player when there is nothing to win.
The All Blacks, without question the greatest team in the modern era and the most dominant international sports team of the last decade, have proved to be at their most vulnerable in these so called dead rubbers.
The Wallabies always look good against the All Blacks in that meaningless (for Bledisloe Cup silverware) third Test because the All Blacks have invariably won the first two.
The All Blacks, in all their Test matches this season, have also looked decidedly disinterested once the match seemingly has been won, which in many instances in this Rugby Championship season has been within 30 minutes of kick-off.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster singled out the inconsistency of the All Blacks this year in putting together 80 minutes of quality rugby. He acknowledged the effort against the Springboks in Albany was the exception and described the 57-0 win as special in result and performance.
The All Blacks saved their best of the year for their last home Test against the Springboks. But there have been so many indifferent and ordinary halves in between that performance that there is a very good possibility that the All Blacks at Newlands on Saturday will be nowhere near as potent as the black tidal wave that crushed the Springboks in Albany.
If not a rare Springboks success against the men in black on Saturday, then when? Everything points to this being the day for the men in green and gold. The averages suggest that the Boks are due a win because they’ve only had one in the last 11, and the trend in the last five years would indicate that South Africa poxes a win every six Tests against the All Blacks.
The All Blacks are unstoppable if they get an early roll on and quick phase ball. They will crush any team. We saw that in Sydney when they scored 40 points in the first half and were leading 54-6 after 46 minutes. The last 34 minutes of that Test was the most ordinary the All Blacks have looked in a while and they took that apathy into the second Test against the Wallabies in Dunedin and trailed 17-0 after 17 minutes. The quality of the All Blacks is that they managed to find those moments of brilliance to create enough try-scoring chances to win, despite giving up a 17-point start.
The Wallabies scored seven unanswered tries and 45 unanswered points in that 51-minute period between the two Tests. The point is that for all the magnificence of the All Blacks, they can be vulnerable when their minds switch off and be downright awful.
The first half against the Pumas in New Zealand was average and the last 50 minutes against the Pumas was as messy and ugly as it can get.
There has been enough about the All Blacks this year to give teams of reasonable quality hope that they can be beaten. But it requires everything to go the way of the team wanting to beat the All Blacks.
Teams that want to beat the All Blacks have to nail try-scoring opportunities and kick points on offer because even when the All Blacks don’t play well they can still conjure up 20 points in a few minutes.
I see this Test going very much like the two Chiefs visits to Cape Town in playing the Stormers. The locals won the first one in the league stages of Super Rugby and were edged 17-11 in the quarter-final. The play-off match could have gone either way, with the Stormers missing a penalty kick to take a 14-12 lead with five minutes to play and the Chiefs converting a try-scoring chance on 78 minutes.
The edge in intensity has to come from South Africa, and I believe it will. This will be just another game of rugby for the All Blacks but for the Springboks playing careers and coaching careers could be on the line.
There will be little consequence to the All Blacks if they lose. Not so the Springboks.
It may be clutching at straws, but straws are all I have when assessing the possibilities of a Springboks win.
If this was the Rugby Championship decider I’d never even contemplate the possibility of the Springboks getting a win, but it’s not a Championship decider.
If you want to know how the Test will shape, watch the All Blacks defensive effort in the opening 10 minutes. If they are gang tackling the Boks, putting in double hits and driving the Boks back over the gain line, then accept it is going to be a black day.
But if they are fairly passive in their defence, then their minds are elsewhere and Saturday will be a day that gets the pulse of rugby’s oldest rivalry going again.
The All Blacks are always complimented for their attacking brilliance but the most lethal All Blacks performances always come off the back of a devastating early defensive effort. This kind of match usually comes when there is desperation within the All Blacks and a ‘must win’ mentality.
The All Blacks, in Albany, saved their best for the Springboks - and it proved to be the most humiliating day in South African Test rugby history.
If there is to be a future for this rivalry, then let’s hope they can balance Albany and save their worst for Newlands.
Let’s hope because if we don’t have hope, then what do we have?
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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