DURBAN – Erasmus has been at pains this season to remind us that he has had one eye on the World Cup all along, and when patience was running thin after experimental teams lost to the Pumas and Wallabies, he said in exasperation: “Judge me on the World Cup.”
Other coaches have used that refrain as a cop-out when things were going wrong, but let’s give Erasmus the benefit of the doubt.
And we now have reason to believe that the Boks can not only compete with the best, but beat them. At the Cake Tin, the Boks won by two points and at Loftus lost by two points.
The scorelines of 36-34 and 32-30 add up to a draw of 66-66, which is not a bad reflection of how the teams have fared against each other, home and away.
In Wellington, the All Blacks made all the play but lost; in Pretoria it was the other way around. Rugby must be the only ball sport where not having possession can be a good thing.
When the Boks won in New Zealand, the match stats did not seem to make sense, apart from the one detailing the extraordinary number of tackles the Boks made, and after Saturday’s match the statistics told a tale of Springbok dominance, yet they lost.
With 60 percent of possession, the Boks carried the ball for 384 metres to the 219m of the All Blacks; the Boks carried the ball 115 times, the All Blacks 68; the Boks beat 25 defenders, the All Blacks just 14; The Boks had seven clean breaks, the All Blacks four; Bok players passed the ball 133 times, the All Blacks just 73. Finally, the Boks had seven successful offloads to the two of the Kiwis.
It would appear that American author Mark Twain was spot on when he remarked: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Another way of putting it is that the only statistic in rugby that counts is the final score!
We should also be encouraged by the quality of the Bok performance on Saturday because it confirmed that the win in New Zealand was not a typical South African back-against-the-wall one-off.
We saw that last year when the Boks all but beat the All Blacks at Newlands in an epic performance and in the next game got thumped by Ireland.
And in New Zealand there was talk of the defeat to the Boks being an aberration and that normal service would be quickly resumed by the All Black juggernaut.
Instead, in the return fixture the Kiwis looked patently beatable for much of the match ... they trailed the Boks until the 79th minute and their unmitigated joy at the final whistle showed they knew just how lucky they were to bust out of jail.
This 66-66 draw has been a timely tonic for world rugby a year out from the World Cup. For example, it was interesting to see a number of foreign journalists and an English broadcaster at Loftus. And how satisfying is it for South Africans to know that they will be telling their audiences that the Boks are emphatically back?@MikeGreenaway67