Cape Town - Four full weeks will, quite benignly, have drifted by between the Springboks playing the All Blacks in that much-hyped RWC 2019 pool opener (September 21) and their quarter-final next weekend against foes yet to be decided at the time of writing.
In the interim, following that 23-13 defeat, Rassie Erasmus’s squad have had a sequence of reasonably relaxed try-fests - producing 26, so an average of 8.6 per game - against Namibia, Italy and Canada.
The final weekend leading up to the last-eight tussle, of course, is also effectively a “bye” one for the Boks.
It does just raise the question of whether they may be a little soft around the edges, in some respects, for their first make-or-break date of the World Cup.
Remember that all three teams vying, to the finish, in tense Pool A for the two qualifying berths to tackle NZ and SA (Ireland, Japan and Scotland) will have come out of a broadly more competitive group, and also all been in action - typhoon-related issues permitting - a week before the quarters, rather than a longer time having elapsed.
Be sure that the conscientious Erasmus will have planned for the possibility of some ring-rustiness or even a touch of inadvertent complacency in the Bok camp after a handful of “cricket-score” matches in their favour.
At the same time, though, he may quietly wish in certain respects that his charges were battle-hardened, entering the last eight, to more of the same level as Heyneke Meyer’s 2015 squad.
While both Bok outfits had the luxury of ending pool play with their largely second-stringers earning rollicking wins (USA last time, Canada here), four years ago and also following a much-publicised opening-game setback, the Boks’ two middle games in their pool (Samoa and Scotland) had been more taxing both on paper and in the tussles themselves - though both were comfortably enough clinched - than, with respect, Namibia and Italy this time.
The Pacific Islanders, for example, had been as direct and physical as you would expect of them, and I still have such unpalatable memories of being seated dead in line at Villa Park to the spot where Jean de Villiers, the Bok skipper at the time who had fought back with rare grit from the multipronged leg/knee injury gruesomely suffered against Wales a few months before, lucklessly fractured his jaw in a collision with Tim Nanai-Williams late in the match.
While wholly accidental and non-malicious, it was somehow also a sign of how predictably uncompromising the fixture had been: De Villiers’s rotten misfortune apart, it steeled the Boks handily for the passionate challenge of the Scots, while that game, in turn, was excellent prep for the nail-biting, narrowly-won quarter-final against Wales.
Have the Boks had it too easy in the lead-up to the 2019 KO phase?
I can’t offer a definitive answer … we’ll find out next weekend.
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