CAPE TOWN – The All Blacks have retained the Rugby Championship title with their victory against Argentina, but Saturday’s Test between the Springboks and New Zealand can hardly be seen as a dead rubber ... not for South Africa, that is.
The Boks’ 36-34 coup in Wellington against the All Blacks was of course a massive one, and the fact that they were able to beat the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth at the weekend and make it back-to-back wins will have done the team well as they prepare for Saturday’s Loftus showdown.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, the All Blacks and the Boks will finish their Rugby Championship campaigns as No 1 and 2 respectively. But the result will still be important for Rassie Erasmus’ team.
While that triumph in Wellington can never be downplayed and the win in Port Elizabeth should be celebrated, there was a feeling that the Boks could certainly have done more at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Yes, they scored two fantastic tries and produced another strong defensive performance after the break, but maximising their opportunities will be a key test against the All Blacks.
There were too many opportunities left out there in front of a spirited Port Elizabeth crowd. The Boks could easily have scored more tries, and the fact that they mostly did the defending in the second half is indicative of a pattern that we’ve seen too often this season, while the unforced errors didn’t help either.
If they manage to win in Pretoria this weekend, they will check one box of consistency in terms of results. But there also needs to be consistency between kickoff and the final whistle.
And if ever there was a match this season in which a full, 80-minute performance will be needed, it will be Saturday’s outing - one that the All Blacks are targeting to “prove a point”.
In the build-up to the PE Test, skipper Siya Kolisi said that his team seem to pitch up when their backs are against the wall, and it’s something that he said needs to change.
And their win over the Wallabies was a good start. While they won’t be under the same kind of pressure this weekend as they were when they faced the All Blacks in Wellington, another victory will not only secure their first consecutive wins over New Zealand since 2009, but it will also make sure that feeling of a rivalry can realistically make its return.
And then there’s of course the fact that it will give the Boks a can-do attitude for their remaining meeting with the Kiwis next year before they face them again in the World Cup.
So, technically there might be nothing hanging on the clash, but for the Boks it will be another chance to continue their growth.