Cape Town – The fragility of the Springbok side in the
current Test season is reflected in how few of them would probably make the cut
if hypothetically, suddenly available for the world-leading All Blacks.
Although South Africa are still almost four weeks away from
their own, frankly daunting first Castle Rugby Championship meeting of 2016
with the easily top-ranked team and World Cup champions – in Christchurch on
September 17 – earliest signs from the tournament have done little to question
the wisdom of bookies in making the New Zealanders very firm favourites.
Kieran Read’s side have already trampled Australia 42-8 on
their own terrain in Sydney, whilst the Boks contrastingly laboured to a
late-charge 30-23 home victory over Argentina at Mbombela Stadium.
Both those outcomes simply deepen the widely-held perception
that the All Blacks should coast to the title, even forecasting from this
infant stage of the competition.
If anything, the combined evidence from the four Tests
(three against Ireland, one Pumas) under Allister Coetzee’s guiding hand so far
only suggests that the Boks – admittedly reshaping after a spate of very senior
departures either through retirement or present unavailability -- are stuck in
the midst of a largely mediocre global pack clearly trailing the NZ
pace-setters by some distance.
It is sobering in our country, nevertheless, to contemplate
just how greatly the once peerless rivalry between the Boks and All Blacks has
become skewed one way (sadly not ours) over the past seven years in particular.
Think back to 2009: that was the last period of notable
dominance by the Boks over their traditionally greatest rivals, when they won
three Tests on the trot against them in the former Tri-Nations and romped to
the title (21 points) by eight points from NZ (13) and way ahead of the Wallabies
The Boks have regressed rather badly in the bilateral duel
ever since and also not won the southern hemisphere competition subsequently.
Great, now-retired loose forward Richie McCaw earlier this
year hailed that John Smit-led Bok side of 2009 as the best international team
he faced in his career, and at the time precious few New Zealanders would have cracked
the SA starting XV.
The Bok team that finally made sure of the trophy by pipping
the All Blacks 32-29 in Hamilton, after respective clear-cut wins at home,
included such heavyweight figures at the time as Frans Steyn, Jaque Fourie,
Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger, Victor
Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Bismarck du Plessis, an emerging, then-dynamic Tendai
Mtawarira and Smit.
Of the starting line-ups from the Hamilton tussle, perhaps
only three All Blacks – Joe Rokocoko for Odwa Ndungane at right wing, Dan
Carter for Morne Steyn at flyhalf, Read for Pierre Spies at No 8 – would have fairly
confidently found places in the Bok ranks if made available.
Naturally there would have been a strong case for the iconic
McCaw as open-side flank, but that was also the supreme year of a certain
Heinrich Brussow, who seriously got under the All Blacks’ skins -- so no
guarantees for McCaw on that front.
Fast-forward to 2016, however, and as things stand a very
contrasting picture emerges: a comparison between the Bok side which edged out
the Pumas on Saturday and the NZ XV which dismantled Australia suggests
demoralizingly few South African candidates who could decisively beef up an All
Given how new they still are to the Test scene, it is
perfectly feasible that as the Rugby Championship develops, men like Ruan
Combrinck, Vincent Koch and Warren Whiteley will properly announce themselves
as international players, especially if they can excel against the very New
But right now, hardly helped by the disappointing under-delivery
on prior-known playing levels of senior troopers like Adriaan Strauss, Francois
Louw and others, it is difficult to look beyond that magnificent, tough-as-teak
young athlete Eben Etzebeth for any Bok near-certainties to bolster the All
Blacks if invited.
Etzebeth would almost certainly warrant eclipsing Sam
Whitelock to a lock berth, creating an irresistible partnership with Brodie
Retallick regardless of which of the two wore four or five – both have the
multi-skilled makeup to be able to grace either jersey comfortably.
The Boks have other impressive second-row potential in Lood
de Jager and Pieter-Steph du Toit, of course, although they are currently
engaged in a close tussle between each other just for one Bok spot, never mind
any All Black-bolstering considerations.
Certainly Faf de Klerk has been one of relatively few genuine
revelations of the Bok 2016 campaign thus far … but would the nippy little
terrier supplant 51-cap Aaron Smith yet from the NZ scrumhalf jersey? I
seriously doubt it.
I believe that if Strauss was in considerably better form he
would potentially push out Codie Taylor from the hooker’s position, although
remember that the latter only started for the All Blacks in Sydney because the
high-quality Dane Coles is nursing some damaged ribs.
These were the respective Bok and All Black starting XVs
from the first round of the Championship; ignoring injures that occurred during
each match, decide for yourself which South Africans might definitively improve
New Zealand on an ongoing basis …
South Africa (beat
Argentina 30-23, Nelspruit): 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel
Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de
Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4
Eben Etzebeth, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss (capt), 1 Tendai
New Zealand (beat
Australia 42-8, Sydney): 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Malakai Fekitoa,
12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran
Read (capt), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3
Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
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