DURBAN - Awaiting the Springbok class of 2017 is an almost season defining hurdle in the form of Argentina, at home, in hostile Salta (9.40pm). Succeed in the truculent atmosphere that is to greet the South Africans, and the path back to the top is laid out; fail, and all the fear and scepticism of 2016 will come rushing back.
When the year opened at Loftus with an emphatic, and truly polar, performance from the Springboks against the travelling French, smiles returned to the faces of the supporters. The chaotic and confused Springboks of the year before seemed like a bad dream and a distant memory.
The smile broadened as the Boks continued in the same manner in Durban, and even in Johannesburg despite the foot feeling like it was slightly off the gas again.
A series whitewash, an attacking intention, and a team of Springboks who were building their culture and identity back up were all very pleasing to see. But the questions remained: What happens when the big boys come knocking?
It does not get much bigger than the Rugby Championship in terms of Test match battles. However, it was once again a good start as the Boks put the Pumas to the sword in Port Elizabeth, picking up a solid, if unspectacular 37-15 win.
The signs were there again. A tangible game plan that was adaptable - and players that could enact it. As well, players that were much more confident and motivated to try things and let the ball move in attack.
It now heads on to game five for the Boks, and things could not be any different from the last four. The odds greatly stack against them as the travel far from home, the opposition is in search of retribution, the ground, and the partisan Pumas fans are all looking to break their burgeoning revival.
Going in the Springboks’ favour however is a good amount of continuity as they have made only one change to the Port Elizabeth team as Francois Hougaard replaces Ross Cronje who has an ankle injury. This was the same change that happened in the third French Test.
Continuity for a team trying to build itself up is key. In four games thus far 10 players have started all of them. For Allister Coetzee that is a great bit of relief as the headaches of selection can wreck havoc on a coach under pressure.
Coetzee will be hopeful that injuries are kept to a minimum as this Championship goes on. It is the familiarity of the players out there, as well as an established bench, that is allowing the Boks to slowly flourish - both in attack and defence.
A win, away from home, against all the distractions and negative factors will let the Boks know they have indeed jumped their biggest hurdle.