I am backing the Springboks to win against the All Blacks in Townsville on Saturday – and this is why, writes Mark Keohane.
I made the call of a Boks win by three-to-five points on Wednesday, a day before the All Blacks named their team.
It had nothing to do with the team the All Blacks name and everything to do with the redemption these world champion Springboks will seek against the team the South African players respect and revere the most, which is the All Blacks.
The All Blacks of 2021, given how they have played and won, on Thursday announced a very good side to play the Springboks. There will be much discussion in New Zealand about whether it is the best match-day squad because opinion is divided on so many positions. All Blacks coach Ian Foster’s blessing, with the talent available, can also be a curse because he can only select 15 players to start and his bench of eight is defined by who he believes is best equipped to do a starting job.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 23, 2021
The All Blacks, unbeaten in 2021, have been brilliant at times, very good on others and questionable for about 80 minutes over eight Tests. They conceded three tries to the Wallabies in the final quarter of Bledisloe Cup 1, looked very uncomfortable against Fiji in the first 30 minutes of the first of two Tests and for 30 minutes in the second half against Argentina a week ago looked disjointed and vulnerable.
Outside of that, they’ve been breathtaking to watch.
If a season usually has that one magical game and that one horror half, the All Blacks have played more than the one magical game, but they haven’t had a horror outing. They are due a day when the ball doesn’t stick and in the past a lot of those days have come against an uncompromising and desperate Springboks.
The three Bok wins in the last 21 Tests against the All Blacks statistically is an unimpressive read, but only Australia (four from 21) have done better over the past decade. Ireland, with two wins, and the British & Irish Lions (2017), England (2019) and Argentina (2020) with one win each respectively are the only other teams to have won against the All Blacks since their 2011 RWC championship-winning campaign.
Former Springboks coach Allister Coetzee’s unfortunate returns in 2016 and 2017, when the Boks lost 41-13, 57-15 and 57-0, were the exception to a rule that every All Blacks versus Springboks contest between 2008 and 2019 had spice to it and asked a question about who would win and didn’t make a statement about an All Blacks win.
John Smit’s 2007 World Cup winners, coached by Peter de Villiers between 2008 and 2011, won five in 11 Tests against the All Blacks, including back to back in New Zealand in 2008 and 2009. De Villiers’s Boks also beat the All Blacks in three successive Tests in 2009.
Heyneke Meyer’s Springboks of 2012 to 2015, only won one Test in eight against the All Blacks, but the average score was 27-18 against a team most rank as the greatest to have ever played the game. Richie McCaw captained that era of All Blacks and Dan Carter guided them around the park and it took all of McCaw’s mongrel and Carter’s brilliance to beat the Springboks 20-18 in the 2015 World Cup semi-final at Twickenham.
Rassie Erasmus, with Jacques Nienaber as his assistant coach and defensive specialist, beat the All Blacks 36-34 in Wellington, New Zealand in their first encounter in 2018, lost in Pretoria 32-30, drew in Wellington, New Zealand 16-all in 2019 and lost a fantastic battle 23-13 in the 2019 Rugby World Cup opener.
Erasmus, after the opening round defeat, said his Boks were good, but on the day not good enough to have beaten the defending champions. He vowed they would improve and always believed that they wouldn’t win the final, irrespective of who they played.
I do know Rassie expected to face the All Blacks in the final and not England.
South Africa’s World Cup campaign got stronger as the belief in their game plan got stronger and the All Blacks only seemed to get more confused as they mixed and matched combinations before imploding against England in the semi-final.
The two teams have not met since.
The Springboks are being mocked because of two successive Test defeats to the Wallabies in Queensland. They have been described in the New Zealand media as ‘unskilled, unfit and not worthy of the name world champions.’
They have been called inconsistent and simply not good enough to have held the world No 1 ranking they relinquished to the All Blacks in the 30-17 defeat to the Wallabies, with the All Blacks beating the Pumas by enough to take the No 1 spot.
Yes, the Boks were awful in the period 50 to 60 minutes in the second Test against Australia at Suncorp Stadium and they spent the final 20 minutes chasing a Test they were never going to win.
But take emotion and the disappointment of losing to Australia out of the equation and take Australia as a name out of the mix and analyse the two Tests and it does paint a different picture.
The Boks, in the first Test, scored three tries to one and were 20 seconds away from a famous win on Australia’s East Coast. The Boks kickers also missed 10 points from two penalties and two conversions and Quade Cooper kicked seven penalties and a conversion for a last minute 28-26 win.
On most other days, the Boks win the scrum, kick it out and get only their second win in 28 years in Queensland.
In the second Test, the Boks lost Faf de Klerk to a yellow card and conceded two tries and 12 points in 10 minutes and trailed 15-6 on the half-hour, but they got themselves back into the game to lead 17-15 on 45 minutes.
And then it all came unstuck and a combination of Australian quality and Springbok lack of quality turned the tide of the Test into a comfortable Australian win.
Which brings me to this week.
The criticism of the Boks is that they are inconsistent and haven’t been able to handle the pressure of being No 1.
The only valid criticism is that they were damn awful in the final quarter against a firing Wallabies.
Outside of that, this group of Bok players have been consistency personified and they have stood tallest in the biggest pressure moments.
They lost in the opening match of the 2019 World Cup and won six in succession to win the title and didn’t concede a try in the three play-off matches.
Then Covid struck and they didn’t play for 20 months.
They got a Test against Georgia, won 40-9 and didn’t concede a try and then 26 of their group, including 15 players got Covid and the second Test was cancelled. They then had to pick most of the available players for the SA ‘A’ team and beat the British & Irish Lions 17-13, playing with 13 players against 15 for five minutes and 14 against 15 for 10 minutes.
They then came back from a first Test defeat to beat the best of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the next two Tests. They did this, despite being in a bio-bubble and not playing in front of a home crowd.
They then picked two different teams to beat Argentina by 20 points on successive Saturdays and conceded one try after 163 minutes over the two Tests.
Off they went to Australia and despite only conceding the one try in the first Test, lost in the 80th minute.
This is not a team that lacks for consistency, fight, quality or anything else, but it is a group of players that have been in a bio-bubble for 17 weeks, with many of the squad having also had to deal with self-isolation when Covid positive.
This group of players won the World Cup and beat a Lions team rated strongest in squad depth than those squads that toured Australia in 2013 and New Zealand in 2017 – and rated this by the coach of all three squads Warren Gatland.
The Boks were awful in that final 20 minutes last Saturday at Suncorp Stadium, but losing there was nothing new as only Heyneke Meyer’s 2013 Boks had won there. The Wallabies, as poor as they were in 2020, beat the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium last year and have lost just four times in 18 Tests at Suncorp Stadium in the past 10 years.
The All Blacks have won just once in their last four visits to Suncorp against Australia. There is something special for the Wallabies about playing at Suncorp and it is very similar to how the Boks perform at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The Boks folded in the final 20 minutes at Suncorp Stadium. There is no dispute about that, but these Boks don’t fold because of a lack of fight or attitude. Their track record since trailing 24-3 to England at Ellis Park in 2018 and coming back to win a thriller 42-39 speaks to everything that has been spectacular about the World Cup winners and Lion tamers. This was Eddie Jones’s England that went 18 Test wins on the trot.
Siya Kolisi’s world champions did not become chumps overnight. They may have played like that for 20 minutes in Brisbane, but they most certainly are a champion team, led by champion players.
This group of Springboks, in the last five Tests against the All Blacks, have won one, drawn one and lost three, but the average score has been 24-26. It could so easily have been won three and lost one.
This is the 100th Test between the two nations and no team in world rugby has won as much as the Boks have, which is 40 percent.
The @Springboks 40.4 % win rate v @AllBlacks the best among all opponents. @wallabies 30% Eng, France low 20% @lionsofficial around 27% & the rest of Tier 1 all less than 10% #springboks #allblacks pic.twitter.com/x3ZeTleAZX
— Mark Keohane (@mark_keohane) September 21, 2021
Trust history on this one and know that the Boks have a 40 percent chance of victory and trust the most recent history and know that they have the ability to challenge and beat the best team in the history of the game.
They have done it more than any other team who has ever played the All Blacks over the last 100-plus years.
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber and his now National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus have picked 12 of the RWC winning starting XV to start on Saturday. The three not there are retired prop Tendai Mtawarira and the injured flank Pieter-Steph du Toit and right wing Cheslin Kolbe.
Those are three big losses, but the All Blacks are without Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock and Richie Mo’unga, three of their most influential players.
The Boks on Saturday are understandably fatigued after 17 weeks in a bio-bubble, drained after the three-Test series against the Lions and absolutely vulnerable.
But they are also up against the team they rate most and looking for a result that means the most.
I am backing them to deliver a performance worthy of the occasion and have just enough to take a famous win … not because of luck but because of the quality of players in the match-day 23, 18 of whom contributed to the 2019 RWC final win against England.
I am backing the Boks, not out of disrespect for the All Blacks, but out of respect for the Lion-taming and World Cup-winning Springboks and everything they have endured in the past 23 months.
Is this the greatest rivalry in rugby? 🇳🇿🇿🇦#NZLvRSA100
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 21, 2021
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— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 21, 2021