Mark Keohane, writing for IOL Sport
No sooner had the Pumas turned the rugby world upside down with one of the greatest triumphs against the All Blacks and the world champion Springboks were under attack for not pitching up for the Rugby Championship.
The Pumas had not played a Test in 13 months, had not played any domestic rugby in Argentina and had spent the past six weeks in Australia preparing for the revamped Tri Nations.
They had two warm-up matches against scratch Australian ‘A’ teams, which amounted to a contact training session.
Pablo Matera’s pioneers had no right to make history against the All Blacks in Sydney. They had won just three in their last 36 Test matches against Tier One teams. They had never beaten the All Blacks in 29 match-ups.
But win they did – and emphatically so.
They pumped an All Blacks team, which is now two wins from five starts in 2020.
Saturday belonged to the Pumas and the world of rugby celebrated a wonderful result, but the Pumas defying every bit of science, logic and history, in no way makes the Springboks decision to opt out of the Rugby Championship a poor decision.
The Springboks are the world champions and are number one in the world. In the past fortnight they have stretched that lead in the rankings, with the All Blacks losing two successive Tests for the first time since 2011 and for only the fifth time in the last 100 years.
In not playing in 2020, the Springboks have preserved everything that was achieved in winning the 2019 World Cup. Under the circumstances of 2020, it was the right decision not to go to Australia.
Argentina’s rugby story is a different one to that of South Africa.
They wanted to go to Australia because they had nothing to lose. The Springboks had everything to lose and the Boks will welcome 2021 knowing that it is the three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions that matters more than a possible win or two against the All Blacks in Australia in 2020.
The Springboks made their statement against the All Blacks in Wellington in 2018 and continued that in 2019 in the Rugby Championship. England made their statement against the All Blacks in the 19-7 World Cup semi-final victory, and Australia (in Wellington and Brisbane this year) also made a statement of sorts.
The current All Blacks don’t compare to the magnificence of their predecessors and neither does the class of the head coach. They have immediate problems, but it isn’t something that can’t be fixed. They still have three years to get it right before the 2023 World Cup in France.
Rewind to the Springboks losing to Italy in 2016 and taking back-to-back 57 pointers against the All Blacks in 2016 and 2017. Two years later the Boks were world champions, four years after losing to Japan at the 2015 World Cup.
The All Blacks, with the right coaching structure, will rise again and it will be sooner rather than later.
But for now, it is the Springboks and England that lead the way in world rugby.
We saw that a year ago in the World Cup play-offs and nothing in the past two months has changed the status quo of who makes up the game’s current top two.
England (in 2019) and to a lesser degree the Springboks (in 2018) showed the blueprint to beat the All Blacks.
The Pumas in Sydney took that blueprint and implemented it to perfection. Intensity, defence, discipline and an ability to sustain the effort for 80 minutes, combined for the history-making victory.
The Pumas won in being in Sydney but the Springboks certainly lost nothing in not being in Sydney.