Johannesburg – The good news is the Boks are injury-free after their trip to Australasia and Heyneke Meyer will have a full squad to select from for next Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies at Newlands.
Also, the fate of the Rugby Championship trophy is in the Boks’ hands ... beat the Wallabies and the All Blacks, with a bonus point thrown in, and the Boks will lift the trophy on October 5 at Ellis Park. The crucial thing here is the two remaining games for Meyer and his charges are in South Africa, so that’s a big bonus, too.
The bad news is the Boks have to play catch-up – if you like. As things stand this weekend, when the competition takes a break, the All Blacks are four points clear of the Boks at the top of the standings, so the ball really is in the Boks’ court. Australia and Argentina are out of the running to win the competition.
We must assume Steve Hansen and his side will pick up five points against Argentina next weekend, which will put New Zealand nine points ahead of the Boks.
But a Bok win against the Wallabies, without a bonus point, will see the difference go down to five, meaning the Boks would have to beat the All Blacks at Ellis Park, bag a bonus point, deny the visitors a bonus point and ensure their points differential at the end is better than that of the All Blacks.
This is just one scenario, the most likely one, if the Boks are to go all the way. Scoring four tries against New Zealand won’t be easy, even if the game is at a venue that has favoured the Boks in the past, so it’s nearly imperative Meyer’s men beat the Wallabies well at Newlands and bag a bonus point there. That’ll be the only focus for the Boks right now, and so it should be. Because as captain Jean de Villiers said earlier this week, failure to do the business against Ewen McKenzie’s side next weekend would render the All Blacks Test a dead-rubber. And no-one wants that ... not after what happened in Auckland a week ago.
World rugby was robbed of the biggest game on the planet for some time when Bismarck du Plessis was red-carded, incorrectly, so Ellis Park now becomes the venue for the ultimate showdown.
The other problem with what happened in Auckland is that no-one really knows how the game would have developed and ended had it been 15 versus 15 for the full 80 minutes. And that means no-one knows just how much the Boks have improved this year, whether they would have eventually got on top of the All Blacks, like they did against the Wallabies a week earlier. Or are the New Zealanders really streets ahead of the rest ... the sending off of Du Plessis ended all the talk about those questions.
Meyer and Co know they still have an excellent chance of winning the title this year, which would include beating the All Blacks. But first up are the Wallabies and the Bok boss has some tough decisions to make in the comings days as he finalises his side for the Newlands match.
Experienced scrumhalf Fourie du Preez is back from Japan and while the former Bulls man started off the bench at FNB Stadium earlier in the competition, one gets the feeling he’ll start in Cape Town. Ruan Pienaar has had a mixed time of it at scrumhalf and Du Preez did enough good things against Argentina to warrant a start against the Wallabies. Like Du Plessis, Du Preez just has something extra that he brings to the Test stage.
Also, will Meyer continue soldiering on with a tired-looking, but clearly on-top-of-his-game Jannie du Plessis at tighthead prop or will be gamble with Coenie Oosthuizen; it is after all the Wallabies the Boks are facing and they showed in the Brisbane Test they have no match for the Bok scrum power. And, will Bismarck be swapped with Adriaan Strauss – to protect Du Plessis from picking up another yellow which could put him in jeopardy of facing the All Blacks a week later?
In the second row, Meyer has to decide whether the bulky Flip van der Merwe has done enough to continue as the No5 lock, or does he go back to the more mobile and better line-out man, Juandré Kruger. The Wallabies are, after all, not as physical as the All Blacks so we could see a rotation policy in place next week.
Besides a possible change at No9, the rest of the backs will stay unchanged, meaning Zane Kirchner will continue at fullback and Willie le Roux on the wing.
The Wallabies, despite their win against Argentina last weekend, remain a side that’s more wobbly than wonder. They’ll do well to scare the Boks at Newlands, but it’s one of those games that Meyer and Co need to be fully focused on. Five log points is non-negotiable so the Boks need to look to their showing in Brisbane a few weeks ago and aim for a repeat performance.