Johannesburg - For a fortnight now, South Africans have been pussy-footing around calling the Springboks the favourites in the upcoming back-to-back Test matches against the All Blacks.
There is good reason for this. On black-and-white, the New Zealanders have dominated the fixture since the game went professional. They enjoy a complimentary record in SA, winning 24 of the 50 Test played here.
Since 2009, the last time the Boks won a treble of matches against the old foe for a clean-sweep that year, the All Blacks have beaten SA 18 times out of 23, with one draw between the two teams.
But there comes a time when one must fall on their sword; climb that mountain, die on it; and say, “screw it”.
The All Blacks deserve respect, but for us to be so overawed by them right now is a bit much. The truth is that this New Zealand team is there for the taking. They do not possess the aura of invincibility of previous years.
On paper their scrum is wobbly, their lineouts vulnerable, while their midfield can be exploited. They have X-factor players, to be sure, but as a cohesive whole – a team – they are battling to gel. The Springboks understand who they are, what they are, and how they want to play.
Yes, the Boks were not perfect against Wales earlier this year, but they have all the advantage heading into tomorrow’s match: the home ground; an understanding of their coaches; stability; and confidence. There will be close to 100 000-plus supporters at Mbombela Stadium and Ellis Park in these two matches, and the vast majority will be on their side.
Next year, the All Blacks are potential quarter-final opponents at the World Cup and we cannot be so meek as we build towards that.
We can afford to be confident touching on arrogant as to put more pressure on the visitors, to remind them that they must prepare themselves for a total onslaught; that we are here to beat them – soundly – and then to move on over their carcass to the next challenge.
Every possible opportunity must be taken to enforce our belief in our superiority over them to help us get the psychological edge for France 2023. They have done that to us for over 25 years and it is time that we repay them in kind.
It is my utmost belief that tomorrow, we will have the measure of the beast. The first half will be tough – they will come at us with everything they have, but as we break them down, they will crumble.
If I am wrong, so be it, but I grow tired of the Boks and their accomplishments always being downplayed and disrespected by our opponents and their media. These players are World Cup champions; they have conquered the British &
Irish Lions where the All Blacks and Wallabies in recent years have not; they have overcome adversity those two nations – and perhaps only Argentina will comprehend – cannot fathom.
The Boks are a great team. If they lose tomorrow, so be it but we should stop abasing ourselves. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy and is a failing that the team and nation must dismantle if we are to defend the Webb Ellis Cup.