Mbombela - If there is a demented soul on the planet who believes the All Blacks are in terminal decline after losing to a very good Ireland side, they ought to take a gander at the history books, which show that almost every time the Kiwis – or the Springboks, for that matter – have suffered a severe setback, they reinvent themselves.
This was highlighted by Bok front-ranker Frans Malherbe yesterday in Nelspruit, ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener at the Mbombela Stadium, when he pointed out that adversity brings out the best in teams of pedigree.
“I was part of the Bok set-up when we lost 57-0 to the All Blacks (in 2017) and then look how we bounced back against them the next year (Malherbe started in the famous 36-34 win in Wellington in 2018), and now they obviously are looking to hit back strongly after losing to Ireland.”
History, likewise, highlights how the Kiwis spectacularly bounced back from three defeats to South Africa in 2009. They were completely outplayed by John Smit’s Springboks in Durban and Bloemfontein on successive weekends and then at home in Hamilton as the Boks romped to a Tri-Nations title.
But Richie McCaw’s men licked their wounds, and a year later – with a revised gameplan to counter the suffocating kicking strategy of the Boks – won their next two games against the Boks by 20 points and 15 points, respectively; and a year after that they reclaimed the World Cup that they had last won in 1987.
The All Blacks of that era reckon the current crop can repeat that history by learning from the setbacks against Ireland, while the challenge of beating the Boks on their home soil will elevate them to the necessary level.
The flyhalf who started in the 2011 World Cup final, Stephen Donald (Dan Carter was injured), said: “I think South Africa is the best place for them (the All Blacks) to be.
“Things are down in the dumps at the moment, but you’ve still got guys there who have beaten South Africa in South Africa. I don’t think they’ll be daunted by it, but will know it’s going to be as tough as it gets.
“It should be exciting for them. As a backs-to-the-wall scenario, you don’t get any bigger, but it’s bloody do-able.
“There are parts of the New Zealand game that will always trouble the Springboks, and if they don’t get their kicking game perfect, and it doesn't flow on to their defence being able to set, all of a sudden a big part of their game is gone.”
Donald added: “The key thing is they don’t listen to the outside noise, and that’s really hard when you’re under the pump. This is a good thing.
“They’re going to the hardest place to tour, but the most satisfying when you win, and they’re away from home where they’re criticised most.”
The Springboks would have been reminded of these events by their shrewd coaches, but the million-dollar question is how they will actually respond. It is one thing knowing what is coming, it is another dealing with it.