Rugby Championship will be Boks' real test

2017-06-26 13:40
Allister Coetzee (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - The celebrations that followed Rudy Paige's try against France in Johannesburg on Saturday told their own story. 

This Springbok side is clicking, finally, and there is a team culture developing that was absent last year when hands on hips and sagging heads were common place. 

Defence has been the hallmark of this series whitewash, with the Boks conceding just four tries over three matches. Saturday's 35-12 win at Ellis Park was the first time that the Boks have not conceded a try in the 15 matches they have played under Allister Coetzee. 

The work of Brendan Venter is obviously being hailed, but Coetzee deserves the credit for this turnaround. 

Following the horrors of 2016, it was a big call by him to ask for changes in his coaching staff and an even bigger call to go after a guy who had a contract with another country until the 2019 World Cup. 

In the end, Coetzee got his man, and he confirmed after Saturday's win that Venter will be staying on with the Boks until after the Rugby Championship. 

As good as the Boks have been against France, it will be in this year's Championship where they are really tested. 

Australia showed on Saturday, when they squeezed their way past Italy, how far they have fallen in recent years while the struggles of their franchises in Super Rugby do not suggest that there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

The Boks were an absolute disaster in 2016, but even then they managed to beat the Wallabies at Loftus. This year, they have to go one better and win at home and away against the Aussies. It is almost a non-negotiable. 

Australian rugby is on the ropes, and if the Boks want to show that they are on the path towards reclaiming their place as one of the game's giants, then these are two matches that they simply must win. 

Two wins over Argentina is also imperative.  

The Pumas are a side that seems to be continuously closing the gap, but if South Africa are to be a permanent fixture in the world's top three, then they should get through these two unscathed. 

The Boks have had a nightmarish couple of years against Argentina, losing in Durban under Heyneke Meyer in 2015 and then in Salta under Coetzee last year. 

If this is to be a healthy year for South African rugby, then it must include victories home and away against the South Americans. 

Realistically, nobody expects the Boks to challenge the All Blacks just yet. 

They go to Albany on September 16, and while it is hard to see them emerging with a win, they must be a lot better than they were in their 41-13 loss in Christchurch last year. 

The return fixture in Cape Town is the final round of the Championship. By then, the All Blacks will more than likely have wrapped up the tournament. 

But if the Boks have won home and away against the Wallabies and Pumas, then there could be a lot to play for at Newlands on October 7.

The two Argentina matches are up first on August 19 and 26.

If the Boks win both of those then Coetzee will have won more matches than he has lost as national coach - something that few would have thought possible at the start of the year. 

It has been the perfect start to 2017, but if results in the Rugby Championship are not better than they were last year, memories of this month will soon fade. 

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