There has always been hope that the Springboks can beat the All Blacks in Auckland. This week that hope comes packaged with conviction.
Brisbane represented the most comprehensive and inspiring Springboks away performance since Jake White’s 2007 World Cup magicians dismantled England 36-0 in Paris.
There have been some outstanding away wins for the Boks since the 2007 World Cup final triumph against England.
The successive away wins against the All Blacks in Dunedin and Hamilton in 2008 and 2009 are rightly celebrated as the most significant.
Other wins in Australia and in England and Wales have also been good, but nothing compares to the emphatic nature of Saturday’s demolition of the Australians in Brisbane.
This was as good as it has got so far under Heyneke Meyer. The standard has been set. The South African rugby public now rightly has an expectation of a team that transferred potential into something more concrete and tangible in Brisbane.
We saw the flip side of this fabulously talented bunch of Boks in Mendoza. The forwards were not quite on their game. The physicality was matched and bettered by a desperate home team effort and the Boks looked lost, disjointed and in danger of becoming the first Bok team to ever lose against the Pumas in Argentina.
We also saw Scotland get stuck into the Boks in the June internationals, and the South Africans took an hour to settle, acknowledge the challenge of the physicality and then take control in the final quarter.
New Zealand, consistently the best team in the world since November 2009, will present different and more daunting challenges than anything the Boks faced in Brisbane. The Boks know this, but what they also know now is that they are good enough to win in New Zealand against the current All Blacks.
Steve Hansen’s black machine is very good but without Richie McCaw they lose a decided advantage and Dan Carter, for the first time in his international career, is playing with the indifference of the mere mortal.
Ma’a Nonu and Francis Saili, as inside centre options, don’t have the range of skills or the presence of Sonny Bill Williams, who will be back in black in 2014 or 2015.
The view, previously, was that the All Blacks had to play poorly and the Boks had to be brilliant for the South Africans to get a win in New Zealand.
What’s changed since Brisbane is that if the Boks play as well as they did against Australia then they will be good enough to win.
There has traditionally in the professional era always been hope that the Boks can unsettle and beat New Zealand in New Zealand.
This Saturday there will be conviction, based on performance and not just an emotional surge of patriotism.
It is going to be the Test of the Rugby Championship – and hopefully it will be the Test that brings New Zealand back to the chasing pack.
The game needs the Boks to consistently challenge the dominance of the All Blacks, who haven’t had to use every gear to fashion a win since the brilliance of their 32-16 win against the Boks in Soweto a year ago.
Saturday has all the pedigree, if not the prize, of a World Cup final. Very little separates the two teams – and that’s the way it should be when numbers one and two front each other.
Australia is poor at the moment. The obsession with playing ‘the Australian way’ is a joke. There is a good way to play rugby and a stupid and naïve way.
The Boks in Brisbane played the good rugby. They did the basics well. The set piece was good, the aggression was vicious but controlled in the collisions, the out of hand kicking game was outstanding and the decision-making matched the physical intent that went into winning the ball.
Technically it was the Boks’ best performance in Meyer’s tenure. There was an appreciation of the breakdown law and there was maturity in everything the Boks did.
They scored fantastic tries but their defensive lines were never sacrificed. That was really impressive.
The Boks kept Australia tryless, despite having a 20-point advantage in the final quarter.
The Boks were big, strong and technically superior. They brought physicality and intelligence to a game, as well as a self-belief in their own ability and a belief in the coaching staff’s game plan.
It was fabulous to watch.
The new scrum law has been a revelation because it is rewarding the stronger scrum. There is less room for technical manipulation on the engage, and it has exposed Australia’s powder puff scrum set piece.
The Boks haven’t always responded well to being favourites, but this Bok team isn’t just another Bok team.
They are a team good enough to win in Auckland – and the All Blacks know this.
The self-doubt, for the first time since 2009, rests with New Zealand this week.