Playing the statistics

2014-09-16 00:00

CAPE TOWN — It would be understandable if the Springboks, after running the world champion All Blacks so mightily close in Wellington, were already turning their thoughts irresistibly to the return meeting at Ellis Park on October 4.

It is now five losses to the old enemy on the trot; breaking that sequence in the home clash must be burning pretty fiercely in the players’ minds.

That very distraction may be the most dangerous obstacle — unless suitably addressed by

ever-wary coach Heyneke Meyer and his aides in mental preparation — to the Boks ensuring they knock over Australia in a far from unimportant prior fixture in the Castle Rugby Championship immediately ahead of it.

The Wallabies tackle the home side at Newlands next Saturday and, until log-leading New Zealanders play Argentina a few hours later, both sides enter knowing the title’s destiny will not yet have been decided.

If the All Blacks beat the Pumas with a bonus point, they definitely clinch a hat-trick of Championship titles since its inception, as it takes them to an unassailable 21 points with one round left (the most either of the Boks or Wallabies, both on 10 at present, can get to from here is 20).

Unlikely though it is, neither of the Cape Town protagonists will entirely surrender the belief Argentina can produce a home upset, given how often the newcomers have run all the SANZAR trio close.

It is just one reason why any motivational shortcomings would be foolish in either case when the Boks and Wallabies lock horns.

The stakes are a little higher for Jean de Villiers’s side as they would lose their hold on the IRB rankings second place to the Aussies if they crash at Newlands.

It would also signal the return of the bilateral Nelson Mandela Plate — the competition within a competition — to Down Under after South Africa had wrestled it back in 2013 with their back-to-back Championship wins over the Wallabies.

The Boks had previously last held it in their cabinet in 2009.

An Aussie win at Newlands also vastly strengthens the likelihood they end the 2014 Championship ahead of the Boks. That represents a South African regression in the competition, considering last year they were comfortable runners-up to the All Blacks (28 points) with 19 themselves. The Wallabies were a distant third with just nine.

For all the thoughts that the Australians are still vulnerable — because they do not have special grunt in their pack and should be considered the Newlands underdogs — they have only lost one game in their last 11 and not too long ago produced the best result of any nation against New Zealand (12-12 in Sydney) since 2011.

The way they kept the famed Pumas scrummage at bay is another warning the Boks cannot simply “pitch up” and knock over the Wallabies.

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