While Rassie Erasmus is adamant that you cannot pick the four semi-finalists at this stage for next year’s World Cup, his Springbok team will take a big step forward in that regard if they can get the better of Wales on Saturday.
The South Africans will feel much better about themselves following their 26-20 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield at the weekend.
While there was great relief with the last-gasp one-point win over France a week earlier, the performance in Edinburgh was much more of a statement from the Boks.
Siya Kolisi and his teammates proved what they are capable of if they are given greater backing by their coach on attack, with Handré Pollard’s line-break and the handling involved in the try by Jesse Kriel underlining that point.
For Erasmus, though, victories are the only currency he deals in. Having now won a series over England, beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand, and recording away wins over France and Scotland, the Welsh are the next box to tick on the former loose forward’s wish-list.
But the hosts are on an eight-match winning streak, which includes the scalps of France, South Africa, Argentina, Scotland and Australia.
Warren Gatland’s team have also been victorious in their last three Tests against the Boks, although those games have been played in Cardiff (twice) and Washington DC.
“In our view, Wales are definitely the most difficult opponent we will face on this tour,” Erasmus said on Monday.
“Warren has managed to build a superb side with lots of experience, and they are playing a good, balanced game, plus they have good depth and quality in their squad.
“We definitely don’t have a great win record, but I think the intensity and intent is there to try and get there.
“I think the World Cup is going to be an open race next year. We saw what happened with Ireland and New Zealand, and we managed to beat New Zealand in a close game.
“Scotland last year almost had New Zealand, England almost had New Zealand – so I really think it’s an open, open race.
“Obviously the clear favourites are New Zealand and Ireland. But Wales are one of those teams who are hovering there, and are almost the silent assassins at this stage.
“If we manage to beat Wales this weekend, then the only team we haven’t beaten – and who are deserved contenders – are Ireland.
“So, that gives us hope.”
.@EbenEtzebeth will be assessed on Tuesday afternoon to prove his fitness in order for him to be considered for selection against Wales: “Last week I said it was a 50/50 (for him to be ready), I’m a little bit more optimistic this week,” said Erasmus. #boksontour pic.twitter.com/AXbuUmlLoO— South African Rugby (@Springboks) November 19, 2018
In that regard, the Bok coach says there is a better chance of lock Eben Etzebeth overcoming his foot injury.
“Last week I said it was a 50/50 (for him to be ready), I’m a little bit more optimistic this week,” said Erasmus, who added that the Stormers No 4 will be assessed on Tuesday afternoon.