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’
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
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.
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