Cape Town - Just how hard it will be for
anyone to topple the All Blacks from their IRB No 1 ranking and also from their
World Cup-holding status next year has only been painfully confirmed to all
As it happened: All Blacks v Springboks
Saturday’s nerve-jangling 14-10 triumph
over old foes the Springboks at Wellington in the Castle Rugby Championship saw
Jean de Villiers’s team produce a performance of immense, bloody-minded
commitment and energy ... and still it wasn’t quite enough as the wily New
Zealanders made it five wins on the trot against the Boks and a continuation of
coach Heyneke Meyer’s personal duck against them.
It was said beforehand, and with some
merit, that this All Black team might just be vulnerable at the Cake Tin, given
the current absence of such names as Dan Carter, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano,
Jerome Kaino, Tony Woodcock and Liam Messam, among others.
That’s before you even take into account
the scheduled return to the union fold before year’s end of a certain Sonny
Bill Williams and his sizzling strength and off-loading ability in midfield.
And yet the All Blacks still ground this
one out, despite the Boks’ so-evident desperation to break the recent hoodoo.
It was a result that massively increased
the likelihood that New Zealand will seal a hat-trick of Championship titles
since its inception as a four-nation competition in 2012.
A spectacular banana peel result for Richie
McCaw’s charges in Argentina in a fortnight is almost certainly required - and
bear in mind the Pumas are yet to win in this tournament despite mounting close
calls in the three years - if the Boks are to still have a title shout of any
kind when they play the All Blacks at Ellis Park on October 4.
Strangely, New Zealand have fared more
handsomely against the Argentineans away than at home in both 2012 and 2013, with
successive bonus-point wins of 54-15 and 33-15 in South America, so that only
seems to stack the odds against a Pumas triumph.
Before that, too, South Africa have to
ensure they keep their eye firmly on the ball and earn revenge at Newlands over
Australia, currently level-pegging with them on 10 points, six points shy of
Nor is there any guarantee at all that the
Boks will gain a hugely overdue victory against the mighty men in black on the
Highveld: the All Blacks have outlasted their hosts in such conditions each
time in the Championship over the last two tournaments (32-16 at FNB Stadium
and then 38-27 at Elllis Park) and become decreasingly intimidated by the thin
air and hard, fast pitches.
So that’s the largely bleak side of the
coin from a Bok point of view.
The shinier perspective is that there can
be little doubting how close they ran the world’s supreme power in Wellington
“It was nip and tuck until the very last
minute ... we are definitely second best team in the world,” said popular pundit
and former Bok coach Nick Mallett in the SuperSport studio by way of upliftment
for the long-suffering local public against the NZ nemesis.
And if the Boks could come so
gut-wrenchingly close to doing the deal in this instance on NZ terrain, then at
the very least we’ve been reminded they will have a puncher’s chance should
they meet the champions in the knockout stage of RWC 2015 in the neutral UK.
It is also impossible not to reflect
ruefully on the way the Boks were diddled, you might argue, out of a victory in
Perth two weeks ago by the curious decision-making of Irish referee George
Clancy. Had South Africa won that game, as they
should have, they’d have been sitting on 13 points rather than 10 - only three
adrift of New Zealand - and prospects would be so much rosier that the Ellis
Park showdown could yet decide the title race.Instead the Boks may well be playing for
the psychological comfort alone - though that’s no minor deal, given the urgent
need to get one over the All Blacks - in trying to prevail in the Johannesburg
clash.As Mallett reminded, the game may be a
dead-rubber affair for the New Zealanders, so that could have some impact on
their motivation levels and play quite tidily into South African hands.Whatever happens, the Boks aren’t in a bad
space, a year out from the World Cup: the pack went absolutely toe to toe with
the All Black eight, and the hosts got more marked territorial traction simply
because they are so much better than any other country at gliding the ball
through the hands for swift, enterprising advancement up the field.But the Boks ought to catch up a bit in
that regard, as well, now that the multi-skilled Handre Pollard has made a
forceful claim to pull the No 10 strings all the way through to the World Cup:
he could become a playmaker of equal importance to fullback Willie le Roux who,
remember, had a rare fumbly game on Saturday.And please ... allow the 20-year-old the
odd poor game ahead without jerking your knee, OK?Next year, all going well, Pollard will
also have a desperately overdue, proven high-quality scrumhalf to rely on as
timeless inspiration Fourie du Preez makes his intended comeback from injury.Particularly pleasing, at least to this
writer, about the Bok near-miss at the Cake Tin was the very fact that they
ended the game notably on the front foot, with a 10-minute siege of the All
Black line that might have yielded famous fruits with better composure and
luck.For a team that had been forced to make
roughly double the number of tackles in the first half, it seemed a
demonstration of praiseworthy, improving stamina and endurance.The All Blacks love to overwhelm opponents
through the sheer tempo of their play; here the Boks stayed with them and
perhaps then some.It’s another healthy sign.New Zealand remain ahead of South Africa,
that’s obvious.But not by too much to feel significantly
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing