Rugby Championship

Durban Test: ‘Movie’ Rassie must try to avoid

2018-08-15 13:23
Rassie Erasmus (Gallo)

Cape Town - Dry, cool, benign breeze … so far, so good on the weather radar for conditions in often fickle Durban when South Africa launch their Rugby Championship 2018 campaign against Argentina on Saturday (17:05).

That is an important scenario, as long as it remains largely unchanged, because it will give the Springboks a particularly inviting opportunity to strike for a vital, bonus-point victory over the Pumas.

Everybody knows that when it does rain in the humid coastal city, it can do so like there is no tomorrow, making for greasy, mistake-riddled, and low-scoring rugby experiences at Kings Park.

But Rassie Erasmus’ gradually regrouping charges instead look like having the perfect stage for this now fairly traditional home event opener against the South Americans, generally considered their “easiest” game of the tournament on paper.

Of course that word must be used guardedly, especially given the Pumas’ satisfying knowledge of a famous, SA soil hoodoo-ending conquest at the ground in 2015.

But if the Boks truly aspire to being right up there for the silverware at the finish this year - that would be a breakthrough of its own, considering the All Blacks’ outrageous dominance in recent years of full-length Championships - then a minimum nine-point haul in log terms probably has to be their target this Saturday and next (the return clash in Mendoza).

In short then, that translates to a full-house win in Durban, plus at least the basic triumph in the away match, where Argentina can play like men possessed and just “getting out alive” could be the understandable Bok priority with the try count a more secondary issue.

We have seen this movie all too often before, and perhaps more specifically in the last two years: New Zealand get off to a maximum-points flier in Australia, South Africa immediately fall a point behind them on the table by earning only a “basic” win at home over the Pumas.

When the All Blacks - champions for five of the last six years - romped to the title in 2017, they roared from the blocks by whipping the Wallabies 54-34 in Sydney (eight tries to four), whereas the Boks beat Argentina 37-15, but by only by four tries to two to be denied the extra log point.

Exactly the same scenario played out in 2016: NZ humiliated Australia 42-8 in their own Sydney den (6-1 in tries), and the Boks were limited to a 30-23 Pumas win (3-2 tries) at Mbombela.

There is some talk - though perhaps based more on hope from some circles than reality? - that Michael Cheika’s Wallabies will provide sterner resistance to the All Blacks this weekend.

So if, at very least, they can go down in a closer contest this time and deprive the world’s top-ranked team of a bonus point, the Boks would have an extra incentive a few hours later at Kings Park to strike for all five points against the Pumas and, in a rare event these days, be the morale-boosting tournament leaders after round one.

While the recent 2-1 series victory over England was far from flawless (especially defensively) the Springboks under Erasmus’s charge did show in the crucial two fair-weather, firm-pitch matches - when they also closed out the series early - some encouraging, progressive new dimensions on attack.

They registered five tries in the 42-39 Johannesburg heart-stopper (S’bu Nkosi 2, Faf de Klerk, Willie le Roux, Aphiwe Dyantyi) and a further two (Duane Vermueulen, penalty try) in the tighter but still engrossing 23-12 Bloemfontein victory.

There was only one try apiece in the dead-rubber clash in Cape Town, but that was primarily because awful, wintry conditions played a major role in the style and shape of the Test match.

Erasmus seems, generally speaking, to have won the important buy-in from backs and forwards alike for the kind of fluidity, boldness and multi-dimensional approach he wishes the national team to offer consistently when on the front foot.

The easel seems very favourably in place for Saturday; now the Boks just need to paint a pretty picture.

For the sake of the 2018 competition, achieving it would be a pleasing, interest-stirring development …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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