Cape Town – A handful of current Springbok players are tantalisingly close to achieving something that hasn’t exactly been de rigueur in recent times.
Victories in each of your first two exposures (one away, one home) to Test battle with the All Blacks?
The prospect flashes brightly for the likes of Aphiwe Dyantyi, RG Snyman and Cheslin Kolbe, assuming that all three match-day participants in the famous 36-34 Wellington triumph crack the 23 again for the return Rugby Championship clash in Pretoria on Saturday.
Similarly, someone like Steven Kitshoff, if he is preferred to veteran Tendai Mtawarira for the No 1 jersey at Loftus when Rassie Erasmus names his line-up on Thursday, would be able to claim a very healthy strike rate indeed of two wins from three starts against the world champions if South Africa prevail on the Highveld.
Kitshoff, very likely to monopolise the loose-head position after the 2019 World Cup in Japan (there must be a good likelihood the already 33-year-old “Beast” will retire from Test competition at its conclusion) has only made four starts in Test rugby thus far; he has a hefty 28 caps as a substitute.
But if he earns a fifth at Loftus, as many will feel he deserves to after reverting to the bench and looking lively for 37 minutes against Australia in Port Elizabeth last weekend, it would be his treasured third against the All Blacks.
Should the Boks emerge victorious – far easier said than done, considering NZ’s bright modern record at Loftus and desire for swift revenge – then his trio of starts against those foes would be a desperately narrow 25-24 loss at Newlands last year, and two wins in 2018.
That would be enough for him to feel anything but a sense of “mental scarring” against the formidable Webb Ellis Cup holders, a handy situation considering the All Blacks being grouped with South Africa at RWC 2019 and due to meet at the event in Yokohama on September 21.
Just imagine, too, if Dyantyi, 24, the fast-emerging left wing who registered two tries in the Cake Tin triumph, plays another pivotal role in a Bok win over their arch-rivals on Saturday: there would then only be one further meeting between the sides to negotiate (in a reduced Championship next year) before the World Cup encounter.
There would be every chance of the Lions flier entering that crunch RWC meeting with a healthy sense of fearlessness – something not many other players worldwide can claim by results reputation against the Steve Hansen-coached, veritable mean machine of current Test rugby.
But it will also be a healthy development for the broader Bok psyche if some of the more experienced members of Erasmus’s Bok group, from the troubled two-year Allister Coetzee tenure as mastermind, can start to show a slightly healthier win percentage against the All Blacks before RWC comes along.
Several, after all, have tasted the trauma of some real roastings from New Zealand, including the record-breaking 0-57 fiasco in Albany last year and the respective 2016 thrashings: 15-57 in Durban and 13-41 in Christchurch.
Despite his many talents, senior player Eben Etzebeth was a part of all three of those embarrassments and sports a mere 2/12 win record against the All Blacks (16.66 percent), while backline stalwart Willie le Roux – set for his 50th cap on Saturday – is 2/8 (25 percent).
A few Bok icons from a generation just before – the batch who could claim last title success in the former Tri-Nations of 2009 – tended not to lose Tests to the All Blacks too gorily, but even their fair tallies of bilateral triumphs were mostly tempered by a much bigger total of reverses.
The most capped Springbok, Victor Matfield, for example, had a 9/27 win record against NZ (33.33 percent), Bryan Habana was 8/25 (32 percent) and Schalk Burger lies just behind Habana at 31.25 percent.
Scrumhalf maestro Fourie du Preez is part of a rare SA breed from those times: he boasts a positive career win record against the All Blacks – seven wins, six losses – and percentage of 53.84.
Although currently injured, 24-year-old outside centre Lukhanyo Am, for what it is worth, sports a 100 percent record in combat with NZ, bearing in mind his curtailed but still important role in the Wellington upset.
Is a new breed of psychologically undamaged Springboks against the old enemy slowly on the brew?
Saturday may provide a significantly deeper sense of confirmation.
Or, if the ever-dangerous New Zealanders really hit their straps on the hard and fast pitch in Pretoria, possibly not …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing