Cape Town - Smart and notably conscientious strategist that he is, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus will be painfully aware that he needs to stiffen his win record abroad with the national team ... and with some haste.
His charges getting increasingly familiar with victory in foreign climes will be important if, as emerging dark horses now for the Webb Ellis Cup, they are truly to develop into a unit capable of bagging a third World Cup for the country in Japan next year.
To win the trophy, you generally have to win all seven (though six is still quite feasible if you happen to have dropped a group-phase game) matches required along the way: they comprise four pool fixtures, a quarter-final, semi and final.
For all but the unfancied tournament host nation, of course, that also means an ability to show consistent mettle a long way from home habitat.
So with a shrinking list of Tests (likely eight) from here to RWC 2019, the Boks under Erasmus’s tutelage need to start correcting with some urgency a still decidedly shaky record outside South Africa.
That is why the fast-looming quartet of end-of-year Tests in Europe (England, France, Scotland and Wales in that order) are critical in mending that hallmark: as suggested earlier this week, a minimum of three wins on tour seems the only way to pacify doubters about the Boks’ ability to be regularly formidable “on the road”.
Just one of the many reasons the current All Blacks, the World Cup holders and still easily top-ranked team, are so great is that they tend to triumph almost as effortlessly abroad as they do in New Zealand.
The 2018 All Blacks, headed northward themselves soon, already sport a 100 percent away record this year - all three matches in the just-completed Rugby Championship, having beaten Australia, Argentina and South Africa on their own pitches.
They were barely less impressive in their full list of away obligations in 2017, too: they sported a six-from-seven record (85.71 percent), the only blemish being in a decidedly dead-rubber “extra” Bledisloe Cup match against Australia in Brisbane.
That is a success rate way ahead of all their major southern hemisphere foes, and certainly including the Boks who continue to look flaky too often overseas in the period ever since Heyneke Meyer was last in charge and they earned bronze with several really travel-wise, legendary figures still in their ranks at the 2015 World Cup.
Erasmus has achieved much in his painstaking campaign to rejuvenate the Springboks during his maiden year at the helm, but not yet when it comes to demonstration of real fortitude in enemy territory.
That is evidenced by the Boks’ one-from-four record in that regard: or 25 percent.
They have lost Tests to Wales in neutral Washington DC (admittedly with much of an SA ‘A’ side in look and feel), Argentina in Mendoza and Australia in Brisbane, although the fabulous exception to the trend was the 36-34 upset of the All Blacks in Wellington.
If Erasmus can steer the Boks to that reasonably pleasing three victories from the four matches in November - and a full house is also not impossible? - then his overall away record for the year would soar to a greatly more palatable 50 percent (4/8) and serve up further confirmation of growing maturity among his pretty youthful team.
That percentage would match the figure achieved by Meyer - the last Bok coach to get through a full, four-year “World Cup cycle” - in his own first calendar year in charge (2012, when SA won three of six overseas Tests).
Meyer was something of an expert at grinding out good results in Europe at season’s end, as that tally included triumphs in all three UK tour fixtures against Ireland, Scotland and England.
He followed that up in 2013 with a glowing away record of five out of six (83.33 percent), including a second successive 3/3 sweep in the northern hemisphere (Wales, Scotland, France): the only blemish had been the Rugby Championship Test in New Zealand.
But since the 2015 World Cup, and with lots of new playing personnel having filtered in, the Boks have been a jittery outfit for the most part abroad.
Their annus horribilis in that respect was Allister Coetzee’s first year as coach (2016), when the Boks earned a flat zero win percentage overseas: six losses out of six (all three Championship, all three end-of-year tour).
Things did improve slightly last year, in fairness, though the victories in Argentina, France and Italy still meant a 3/7 away record and an overall win record in his tenure for “Toetie” away from SA of 3/13 (23.07 percent).
That isn’t exactly the stuff of likely World Cup winners, and Erasmus needs to work speedily to fix the Boks’ record and reputation in circumstances when they are a long way from the proverbial “ma se kos”.
That time is largely in the next few weeks ...
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