Rugby Championship

Boks must avoid NZ obsession

2014-09-15 13:25
Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – It would be understandable if the Springboks, after running the world champion All Blacks so mightily close in Wellington, were already turning their thoughts irresistibly to the return meeting at Ellis Park on October 4.

It is now five losses to the old enemy on the trot; breaking that sequence in the home clash must be burning pretty fiercely in the players’ minds.

So that very distraction may be the most dangerous obstacle -- unless it is suitably addressed by ever-wary coach Heyneke Meyer and his aides in mental preparation -- to the Boks ensuring they knock over Australia in a far from unimportant prior fixture in the Castle Rugby Championship immediately ahead of it.

The Wallabies tackle the home side at Newlands on Saturday, September 27 (17:05 kickoff) and, at least until the log-leading New Zealanders play Argentina in La Plata a few hours later, both sides will enter it knowing the destiny of the title won’t yet have been decided.

If the All Blacks beat the Pumas with a bonus point, they will definitely clinch a hat-trick of Championship titles since its inception, as it would take them to an unassailable 21 points with one round left (the most either of the Boks or Wallabies, both on 10 at present, can get to from here is 20).

Unlikely though it is, neither of the Cape Town protagonists will entirely surrender the belief that Argentina can produce a home upset, given how often the newcomers have run all of the SANZAR trio close.

It is just one reason why any shortcomings on the motivational front would be foolish in either case when the Boks and Wallabies lock horns.

The stakes will arguably be a little higher, in fact, for Jean de Villiers’s side as they would lose their hold on the No 2 spot on the IRB rankings to the Aussies if they crash at Newlands.

It would also signal the return of the bilateral Nelson Mandela Plate – the competition within a competition, if you like – to Down Under after South Africa had wrestled it back in 2013 with their back-to-back Championship wins over the Wallabies.

Previously, the Boks had last held it in their cabinet in 2009.

The Aussies winning at Newlands would also vastly strengthen the likelihood that they would end the 2014 Championship ahead of the Boks.

Such a scenario would represent a regression in the competition by South Africa, considering that last year they were very comfortable runners-up to the All Blacks (28 points) with 19 themselves – the Wallabies were a distant third then with just nine.

For all the thoughts that the Australians are still vulnerable because they do not have special grunt in their pack – and seem sure to be installed as underdogs at Newlands – it is a fact that they have only lost one game in their last 11 and not too long ago produced the best result of any nation against New Zealand (12-12 in Sydney) since 2011.

Perhaps, also – albeit through means occasionally fair and sometimes foul - the way they kept the famed Pumas scrummage at bay at Gold Coast on Saturday is another warning to the Boks that they mustn’t expect to simply “pitch up” and knock over the Wallabies.

In a nutshell, the Aussies had very little of the set-piece trauma against the same opponents that South Africa suffered on that humiliating afternoon in Salta.

Yes, beating the All Blacks is overdue and the pressure to do so in Johannesburg, regardless of the state of the Championship by then, will be intense on the Springboks.

But they cannot take their eye off the ball in the meantime as it might have surprisingly damaging consequences.

The Boks are champing at the bit to avenge Wellington.

 They mustn’t forget that they’re also tasked with avenging Perth.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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