CAPE TOWN - SIYA Kolisi’s world champion Springboks have mirrored John Smit’s 2007 world champion Springboks, but the expectation has to be that tomorrow won’t mirror the fortunes of Smit’s team in 2009.
The expectation must be that Kolisi’s super Springboks will win – and win well.
Smit’s team had tamed the Lions with a series win in 2009 and they had beaten the All Blacks twice in succession in South Africa. They needed to beat one of the Wallabies or All Blacks in the away Tri Nations matches to win the title and everything pointed to a win against an Australian team that had lost four Tri Nations matches in succession.
Smit’s Boks did it the hard way in getting clobbered 21-6 against Australia in Brisbane and then beating the All Blacks in Hamilton 32-29 for a third successive win against the men in black in 2009.
The All Blacks’ greatest ever player Richie McCaw played in all three of those losing Tests. To give context to 2009 is to know McCaw’s Test record: he lost just 15 times in 148 Tests in 15 years of international rugby.
McCaw, in media interviews and his autobiography, described Smit’s 2009 Springboks as the greatest team he faced in those 148 Tests.
Which makes the 2009 Brisbane horror result stand out even more. Nothing in the build-up suggested the Wallabies had a chance, and when one compares the two match-day line-ups very few of those Wallabies would have been preferred ahead of those starting for the Springboks.
Fast forward to 2021 and the Wallabies have come off three successive defeats against the All Blacks, including a record 57-22 walloping at Eden Park in Auckland. Kolisi’s Boks, by contrast, have won five of their six Tests in 2021, including a come-from-behind 2-1 series triumph against the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town and two successive emphatic wins against the Pumas in the Rugby Championship.
I was bullish that the Boks would beat the Lions and much of my public bravado was based on the quality of the 2019 World Cup-winning squad and the manner in which they had beaten Japan in the quarter-finals, Wales in the semi-finals and dismantled England 32-12 in the final.
I made the call at a time when I factored in that two matches were being played at altitude, that the grounds would be filled with South African supporters and that the Boks would have enjoyed a series build-up against Georgia.
When Covid forced all the Test matches to be played in Cape Town Stadium, without any supporters present, the odds certainly shifted towards a Lions team whose players had enjoyed six warm-up matches before the first Test and whose players had played in two successive Six Nations tournaments, while the Boks were in Covid-enforced international Test isolation.
Yet despite everything favouring the Lions, I was consistent in maintaining the view that the Boks would win the series because, as players and coaches, they were too good to lose. It wouldn’t be easy but winning the biggest matches should never be easy.
Kolisi and his Boks got the job done and Morne Steyn’s late penalty added romance to the rugged nature of the series. Steyn had kicked the series winning penalty in 2009 and in his first Test appearance in five years, would torture the Lions with his boot in 2021.
I had confidence in the Boks, just as I have confidence that they will win against Australia in the next two weekends and set up a grand finale against the All Blacks for the final two weekends of the Rugby Championship.
Those two Tests against the All Blacks will also be the 100th and 101st time world rugby’s greatest rivals meet and the centurion Test comes 100 years after the teams first played each other in 1921.
If you read the stars, then they are aligned for the Springboks. At least, that’s my reading of it.
But I can’t say the same thing for so many Springboks supporters who seem to struggle with the concept of the Springboks being the favourites and being expected to win against inferior opposition.
Make no mistake, Australia, with three wins from 12 Tests in the past 18 months, are inferior opposition.
The Boks will respect the occasion of a Test match, but these Wallabies have done very little on the field to demand respect from observers of their performances.
They have been terrible. Many overseas commentators on
South African supporters have over the years written of an inferiority complex because of sporting isolation and how they put the likes of New Zealand and Australia on a pedestal.
But it’s been 29 years since both those teams humiliated the Springboks on their return to international rugby.
In those 29 years the Boks have won three World Cups, two Lions series, won in New Zealand against the All Blacks a few times and scored some of the best wins against England at Twickenham and against England in South Africa. They’ve also had the edge over the Wallabies, albeit just.
The Wallabies teams of 1992 and 2000 were world champions and they commanded respect. Not so this current lot.
I’d like to see the Springbok supporters putting their Boks on the pedestal because 29 years after their international return there is no excuse for an inferiority complex hangover among Bok supporters.
When No 1 plays No 7, the expectation has to be that No 1 wins.
Back the Boks – not because of patriotism but because they are the best team in the world.