Johannesburg - When the Springboks say they are not
underestimating Australia in Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash at the Nelson
Mandela Bay Stadium it should come across as massive understatement for those
who recall the last few matches between the sides.
What has changed for the Boks since they lost by the
narrowest of margins to the Wallabies in a game they should have won with
something to spare in Brisbane a few weeks ago is that the South Africans have
subsequently gotten over the line to beat the All Blacks, according to the supersport.com website.
Against a team that has made a habit of winning even games
where the odds are weighted against them, it brings more than just a
psychological boost for the Boks to have reversed that trend, it also radically
changes the outside perception of the team.
Just as perhaps beforehand some of the doom merchants
overdid the negativity following the losses to Argentina and Australia, for the
Boks do often step up against their greatest foe, so there is a danger that the
expectation will go too much in the opposite direction against what many will
regard as lesser opposition.
It is true the Boks don’t lose often to Australia on home
soil - they haven’t since 2011 - but if the South Africans surrender the
momentum picked up in Wellington by under-achieving in Port Elizabeth, it
wouldn’t be the first time it has happened.
Indeed, if you think back to the periods of dominance that
the Boks have enjoyed in some of their recent games it is hard to fathom the
recent result sequence going back to the start of 2016 - narrow wins for both
nations on home soil in 2016, followed by two draws last year and then a close
win for the Wallabies three weeks ago.
Bok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk agrees that the two teams have
established a tendency to bring out the worst in each other and says it is
“I think that is a good question (relating to us under-achieving
against Australia). It’s not just last year, when there were two draws, but
also the year before that, my first year (as a Bok), when we lost narrowly in
Australia and then we won but weren’t good against them in Pretoria,” said De
“I think it comes down to us creating opportunities and not
converting them into points. If you think back to the games, we have often had
chances to put them away that we just haven’t taken. The last game we played
against them was an example of that. We gave that one away with stupid
“It may partly be down to inexperience. It may be partly
down to individuals losing focus and maybe not having the right plan in place.
It is not just against them that we don’t convert opportunities.
“Every week we go through the opportunities we have missed
during a game, and there are a lot of them. The opportunities missed against
Argentina were at an unheard of level (both in Durban and in the loss in
Mendoza) and we missed a lot against Australia.
“We just need to be more cut-throat. We need to improve our
conversion rate and be more successful at converting opportunities when they
come. If you have 10 opportunities, then you should convert seven. But at least
we know that and it is something that we are working on.”
Bok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick reckons the failure of
both teams to put the other one away when the opportunity was there (if you
look at the stats of the Loftus game in 2016 that was one that Wallabies should
perhaps have won) comes down to them being at the same stage of development.
“We are both rebuilding and we have seen players go overseas
and then come back,” said Stick.
“They saw Kurtley Beale go away and then he came back and
was reabsorbed back into their system and we have experienced the same with Faf
and others. We are both working on building our leadership groups. They are
talking about bringing back Adam Ashley-Cooper. All the leadership guys are
coming back. We are both building back to where we belong.”
One member of the leadership group who Stick feels is
critical to the Boks is Willie le Roux, who has now been freed to play in Port
Elizabeth and Pretoria after initially he was expected to be tied up by English
club commitments in the last fortnight of the Championship. Le Roux was
expected at the team hotel on Monday night and Stick was elated that he was
“Jeez, he adds massive value. I said before the All Black
game that if Willie, Handre (Pollard) and Faf could make the right decisions
and create opportunities, then Aphiwe Dyantyi would be man of the match by
feeding off that, and that is what happened,” said the assistant coach.
“Once you get Willie and company playing their best then you
significantly improve your chances of producing the best team performance.”
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