The Springboks are the World Cup holders, ranked one in the world and currently the world champions. Deservedly so because there wasn’t a better team in the World Cup play-offs. But please let’s keep perspective a month before the 2020 Rugby Championship.
The romance is that all was golden before the World Cup play-offs in Springboks rugby.
It wasn’t and the next season or two talks more to the reality of how the Springboks find consistency in between World Cups and not just magnificence in the three week World Cup play-offs every four years.
What do you want to be, a consistently good team that wins more than it loses in four years, or a team that flourishes during the World Cup play-offs every year?
There is no right or wrong answer.
Those who think there is an answer will tell you they will sacrifice every crappy Saturday Test afternoon in the four years to win the World Cup and others will tell you they’d rather have consistently good Saturday afternoons over four years and hope that one of them is a World Cup final triumph.
The Springboks, in 2019, were absolutely deserving of winning the World Cup. In the final three matches, there wasn’t a better team than Rassie Erasmus’s Springboks. Globally, there would be no argument.
But to say the Boks destroyed the hold the All Blacks have on them is stretching the imagination.
The Springboks, since the 2015 World Cup semi-final defeat, were one from eight against the All Blacks pre the 2019 World Cup final win against England.
The only win was a 36-34 success against the All Blacks in Wellington, New Zealand in 2018. It was a glorious victory, but it took a missed conversion from the All Blacks Beauden Barrett, more missed kicks from Barrett, some awful attacking decision-making from the All Blacks in the final three minutes and heroic defence from the Boks to fashion the win.
The All Blacks scored six tries to five at home and lost.
The Springboks’ iconic coach Rassie Erasmus, in the ‘Chasing the Sun’ documentary spoke about wanting the All Blacks to fear the Springboks.
He spoke of the win in Wellington and how all the preparation had gone into the match. He spoke of the significance of the win. I get all the emotion, based on the win.
However, had Barrett’s last conversion been nailed, the narrative of the Rugby Championship and the Springboks may have been different.
I hear you say that it wasn’t so and on your bike …
This isn’t to detract from that win but an attempt to give an understanding to the challenge of the Boks in the next three years.
Erasmus, in his one win, one draw and two defeats against the All Blacks, restored the pride of a contest, but the Boks certainly did not evoke an emotion of fear with the traditional foe.
And I’d like to think that despite the post 1992 lop-sided Test statistics, the Bok players approach any Test with the All Blacks with respect and not fear.
What I did respect from the All Blacks post the 2019 World Cup was the acknowledgement the Springboks were the best team at the World Cup. Every member of the All Blacks squad applauded the Springboks.
I didn’t hear a comment ‘but you never beat us at the World Cup’.
The response was ‘we weren’t good enough to get to the final to play you again’.
The All Blacks weren’t good enough to win the World Cup and they weren’t good enough to beat England in the semi-final.
But they were good enough to beat the Springboks in the opening game of the tournament between the two teams.
This is the perspective I am writing about.
Yes, the Springboks conquered the World Cup play-offs and stood tallest in the most significant moment.
But as another Rugby Championship approaches, winning the World Cup in a 32-12 final win against England is no guarantee of success against the All Blacks.
We boast (and I am among the boasters) about the Bok resurgence against the All Blacks in Allister Coetzee’s final Test against the All Blacks at Newlands in 2017 and Erasmus’s four Tests in 2018 and 2019.
But the reality is that the resurgent Boks are one in five against the All Blacks in that period.
That statistic has to change in the next World Cup cycle for the Springboks resurgence to be complete.
Are the current Springboks good enough to reverse the post 1992 trend against the All Blacks?
But the belief must be backed by consistent winning results and then perhaps … just perhaps, respect will turn to All Blacks fear when they see the annual international schedule.