DURBAN – Springbok rugby players will tell you that the difference in approach to playing the All Blacks and the Wallabies is that they hope to beat the former and expect to beat the latter.
To be fair to the Australians, they probably feel the same way about their rivalries with the Boks and their Antipodean cousins. It would go some way to explaining why the Boks and the Wallabies have produced so many dull affairs ... both teams understandably appear to be saving their best for the New Zealanders ... there is a bigger fish to fry. Who can blame them?
The two teams seem to have just about settled on a deal where the home team wins a closely-contested game. The Aussies mostly beat the Boks in Australia and the Boks almost always win the return match. Last year we had two draws and over the last decade or so the games have generally been separated by a margin of less than 10 points.
Again with respect to the Wallabies, can we reasonably expect the Boks to scale the same dizzy heights of Wellington in what some would perceive to be an anti-climax match in Port Elizabeth?
Damn right we should.
All too often in recent years the Boks have been unable to back-up a fine performance, and quite often it has been after an epic match against the All Blacks. It is a disturbing trend that must stop if Rassie Erasmus’s team are to avoid the “Win in the Tin” being remembered as yet another false dawn for Springbok rugby.
For a minute let’s put ourselves in the boots of the All Blacks. Every single match they play they know the opposition is in do-or-die, cup final mode, with every player aiming for a “personal best”. And every game the All Blacks respond by giving their absolute best. They know no other way.
I am not saying the Boks do not give a hundred percent every Test they play ... it is just that they become 110-percenters against the All Blacks. It is an automatic reflex.
In 2008 the Boks beat the All Blacks in Dunedin then came home and lost 19-0 to the same side at Newlands. In 2009, the fine South African win in Hamilton was followed by a loss in Brisbane; in 2014 the Boks lost to Ireland after having beaten the All Blacks in their preceding match.
Last year, something similar happened — the Boks all but beat the All Blacks at Newlands and then were despairingly poor in their next match, in Dublin.
The pattern has to stop this weekend if this Bok team is serious about separating themselves from the spluttering Springbok teams of the last decade or so. The Boks have to take on the All Blacks’ mindset and treat every match as an opportunity to honour the rich tradition of the jersey and to put a smile on the face of the nation.
After losing to the Wallabies in Brisbane three weeks ago, in the space of a week the Boks went from being the butt of a thousand jokes to being a national treasure. They dare not drop their standards and lose this week to a side they really ought to beat in South Africa.
That would border on criminal.
To this end it was pleasing to hear Faf de Klerks’s comments yesterday in Port Elizabeth. He said: “We’ve spoken about consistency and the need to back up our performances. We don’t want to be a team that beats New Zealand one week and then plays mediocre rugby the next. One of our goals this week is to improve completely on our performance …”
Well said. Bok fans have taken so many hits in recent years that they are sick of this “one-hit wonder” stuff. No more faffing around.