South Africa start the Australasian leg of their Rugby Championship series on Saturday against Australia in Perth, followed by a tough test against the world’s best New Zealand a week later in Wellington. The patriotic optimist inside of me secretly believes the Springboks can pull off two great results that will set the tone for a first ever trophy victory since the Tri-Nations expanded. The cold, harsh reality is that I am almost certainly wrong.
Based on pre-Championship form the All Blacks were pushed hard by England and the others might have had a look at the 2014 Kiwis and thought they were beatable this year. The Australians looked decent against France and after the superb efforts by their Super Rugby teams, the Wallabies might have thought this season could be a watershed year. Then there was South Africa who did not look impressive at all against Wales and Scotland but were able to earn the wins needed. An analyst would have probably thought it could be between the All Blacks and their Antipodean neighbours this year with the South Africans in third and Argentina again finishing fourth.
Come the first weekend of the competition the Wallabies pushed the New Zealanders to a 12-12 draw in Sydney but were then annihilated in Auckland a week later as the All Blacks recorded a half-century to announce that they were still the team to beat. The Springboks were dreadful against Los Pumas in equally atrocious conditions in Pretoria. Captain Jean De Villiers swore it was the worst weather he had ever played in and we were told we would see the “real Boks” in Salta a week later.
Well seven days on from Loftus the Argentines should have beaten the South Africans. A 12-point lead with less than 20 minutes to go would have been consolidated by a top side but the South Americans’ nerves got the better of them and allowed the Boks back to win by two points. Was that the “real” South Africa?
If indeed so, you might want to go shopping with the wife on Saturday at around 12:00 or just change the channel if a day at the mall with the spouse is as equally excruciating as a Springbok Test performance. Heyneke Meyer will know that South Africa have performed best in Perth over the years and “Little Pretoria” presents the Springboks with their best chance of an away win Down Under but in all probability the chances of a win just appear unlikely.
Moreover the Wallabies will be keen to show the New Zealand match was not a fair reflection of their abilities. All things considered the smart money has to be on the Aussies this weekend. Meyer has some serious thinking to do with just over a year to go until the Rugby World Cup. At this stage last year his side appeared to be an exciting, young team destined to challenge in England in 2015. Right now the Boks look like nothing better than a quarter-final team.
The patriotic optimistic me hopes I’m wrong.