I have no doubt the Springboks will win against Australia in Bloemfontein. I am not convinced the current match-day squad is capable of getting anywhere near winning the 2019 World Cup.
Winning the World Cup has to be the primary goal of any four year cycle and there was enough in Albany, New Zealand, to kill of any argument that the Springboks who played there are in any way capable of dethroning the world champion All Blacks.
The Springboks are pooled with the All Blacks and at least have the comfort that they can still lose to the All Blacks in Pool play and stay alive in the tournament. I believe being grouped with the world champions is the best possible draw for the Springboks because it means South Africa will avoid the All Blacks in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, assuming both teams advance to the final.
Currently it would be a surprise if New Zealand was not in the final, but it wouldn’t come as a shock if South Africa was not a finalist.
The greatest challenge Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has in the next 18 months, again assuming he is still the coach in 2019, is convincing the South African public that the Springboks are in good enough shape to have a chance against the likes of New Zealand, England and Ireland.
Currently there is only hope of a Bok win against the mentioned trio but there would and could be no conviction on the evidence of the last 19 Tests. The Boks in 2017 are an improvement on 2016 but that doesn’t mean they are anywhere nearer their goal of consistently being a top three team with the capacity to break into the top two.
The oldest cliché among coaches is that the most successful coaches are also outstanding selectors. It is here where the question marks remain in terms of Coetzee’s ability to lead the Springboks’ World Cup challenge.
The selection weakness may be negated when Rassie Erasmus returns from Ireland later this year to be the National Teams Director of Rugby. The Springbok coach reports to Erasmus, but the scope of the portfolio as National Teams Director isn’t necessarily one that can dictate the squad selections and match-day selections. It could be a situation where Erasmus can guide and advise but can’t control who plays and who doesn’t.
Ordinarily a national coach is judged on results but the nature of Coetzee’s contract would appear to make him the exception to the rule. Everything suggests he will see out his four year cycle, regardless of results, but then will be unlikely to get a job coaching a South African professional team.
Coetzee could find himself as isolated as one of his predecessors, Peter de Villiers, whose results were decidedly better than Coetzee’s. A mitigating argument would be that De Villiers enjoyed the luxury of an established world-class team and Coetzee has spent the last international season and a half trying to build a team that can be the best in the world. Currently, he is well short of this target.
The defeat in Albany wasn’t a once-off because it was the second successive time the All Blacks had put 57 points past a team selected and coached by Coetzee. It also wasn’t the same team. Only two players from the Durban debacle started in Albany. The obvious conclusion is that Coetzee has got it wrong in terms of player identification when it comes to playing the All Blacks.
And it’s the standard of the All Blacks against which every team has to be measured, given their dominance of the world game since the start of the 2011 World Cup.
When I look at the Springboks who will play in Bloemfontein I see a team with the advantage of playing at home and also one with a numerical edge if you had to pick a ‘best of’ combined team from South Africa and Australia. It is very different to if you had to pick a combined All Blacks/Springboks starting XV, and I agree with SuperSport analyst and former Springbok coach Nick Mallett that not one Springbok currently would make such a side.
Australia, fortunately, does not possess the quality or the consistency of the All Blacks. They also do not travel as well as the All Blacks, especially to South Africa.
Australia is mentally soft when it comes to playing Test rugby in South Africa. Some great Australian teams have lost here to struggling Springboks.
South Africa will win in Bloemfontein but victory won’t be an answer to any World Cup-winning questions.
Coetzee, a year ago, was defiant in defending the team that lost to the All Blacks in Durban. He said there weren’t better players in South Africa or South Africans playing abroad. He said he had picked the best. The fact that only two survived for the run on in Albany shows the folly of that statement.
Bloemfontein will make for a blissful Springbok early evening celebration but any victory dance will be devoid of conviction that those doing the dance are good enough to do it after the 2019 World Cup final.
I believe there are players good enough in South Africa and playing abroad to put together a match-23 that can challenge the All Blacks, England and Ireland. But I also believe emphatically that they aren’t the 23 who will beat the Wallabies in Bloemfontein.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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