Cape Town – It’s a theory that will go down like a lead
balloon among many Australians, but for the Castle Rugby Championship to avoid
another monotonous, predictable climax, a Springbok victory over the Wallabies
seems vital in Perth on September 9.
For all their guts and herculean effort in Dunedin last
weekend, it is a cold fact that Australia, last year’s runners-up to New
Zealand – albeit by a considerable distance – are now nought from two in the
2017 version and already highly unlikely to find a way to tournament glory from
Argentina? Absolutely freakish things will need to happen
competition-wide for them, similarly, to have any ongoing interest in claiming
the title for the first time as they are also winless after the two clashes
with South Africa – and unlike the Wallabies, the Pumas can’t even sport a
single log point.
So we run the risk of the slightly depressing situation, not
for the first time in the Championship’s six-year history as a four-team event,
of the All Blacks (greedy champions for four of the five prior years) looking
virtual dead-certs for the title even at the halfway stage of the roster.
Yet that phenomenon will mercifully be dodged in a week and
a half’s time – assuming that the All Blacks have also beaten Argentina at New
Plymouth a couple of hours earlier – if the Boks can see off the Wallabies at
South Africa, under such circumstances, would then travel to
New Zealand level-pegging with their hosts on three wins each and knowing that,
even if they lose in the unusual location of Albany, the fate of the 2017 competition
would remain notably undecided as they return to home shores for the two-game
finish to their assignments against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
But if Allister Coetzee’s charges come a cropper for the
first time in six Test matches this year against the Australians in Perth, then
any hope – I know there are plenty of Bok supporters clinging to it – of a
grandstand, tournament-deciding SA v NZ encounter at Newlands on October 7 will
pretty much go up in smoke irritatingly early.
Who in their right minds would be staking their houses
against New Zealand retention of the title from that point?
So it is probably fair to say that, as things stand, the
Boks represent the lone hope of the All Blacks being pushed all the way in the
Championship for a change, but with a victory in the Western Australian
metropolis critical to that scenario.
They are a mature and motivated enough bunch this year, it
seems, to be doing anything but taking Perth triumph for granted, and an additional
reason for avoiding complacency obviously comes via the video of the resurgent
Wallabies’ very late surrender (35-29) to the champions at Forsyth Barr
Even so, a counter-suggestion to any hasty theory that
Australia are “back” might come in the form of suggesting that Michael Hooper
and company put so much bloody-minded effort into engineering a Dunedin upset
that they have now really shot their bolt as title-aspirants for 2017 and a
return to rank mediocrity is possible.
The Boks do, frankly, look better equipped than for some
time to complete the task of winning in Australia for the first instance since
2013, when they earned a handsome 38-12 Brisbane result under Heyneke Meyer’s
For the major reason that New Zealand have so dominated the
Championship since its inception, the competition has struggled to match the
gravitas of the Six Nations up north, where games are played over a single
round every year and it is not uncommon for the title to be up for grabs on the
final weekend (though England won with a round to spare in 2017).
Ironically on the one occasion where the southern-hemisphere
event has been held on a single-round basis itself thus far, Australia briefly
snapped the All Black dominance by winning it.
But that was in 2015, a World Cup year when experimentation
and rotation of players was the general order of the day.
In its more customary, extended format, New Zealand have
bossed the Championship to an extent that really isn’t helpful to its broad
credibility and interest levels.
Last year, they won with an imperious 30 points, whilst
second-placed Australia couldn’t manage half that tally (it was 13).
In 2014, we had the “closest” full-version tournament thus
far, with the All Blacks earning 22 points and the next-best Springboks 19, but
2013 was again painfully one-sided (NZ 28, SA next on 19) and ditto maiden 2012
(NZ 26 points, Aus next on 12).
Yes, 2017 almost certainly requires the Boks to do the
business in Perth, or irreversible gaps may open up all over again.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing