Boks to banish England bogey

2006-11-01 10:13

Mark Keohane

Statistically, two November northern hemisphere wins in three Tests would be a very good achievement for Jake White's Springboks.

Three victories would be an outstanding achievement. One win would be par for the course and no wins would be an unacceptable return.

A lot of the tour emphasis is on how the new combinations will respond to the demands of northern hemisphere Test rugby. But no tour development can be gained at the expense of poor results. 'We'll take the positives from the defeat' is among the first clichés losing teams trot out. There will be no positives in more than two defeats.

There is questionable back-up in this Bok squad, but there is enough quality in a starting XV to confidently believe the Boks should beat Ireland in Dublin. The management has gone on record as saying Ireland will be tougher than England, but I disagree primarily because of the psychology around a Bok team playing at Twickenham.

The Boks have not won there since 1997 and history counts for a hell of a lot when it comes to the psychology of whether or not the Boks can win. Often the boys have been beaten by the factors surrounding the Test and not necessarily by a better England team.

There is no way the England side of 2004 was better than the Boks of 2004, yet they won 32-16. That was a Test lost before kick-off. You can't tell me that Os du Randt, John Smit, Eddie Andrews, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Joe van Niekerk as a forward unit are anything inferior to any other pack in world rugby. Mentally the Boks were beaten by the Twickenham factor.

There are theories that a young team with no baggage does not have these concerns. It is debatable because many in this touring party have been on the receiving end of a big one from England.

White used the argument last year that it is easier to motivate your team (when they are struggling at half-time) against an opponent they always beat. He was referring to Argentina. He questioned how the Pumas coach could get his team to believe they actually could beat the Boks when they had never done it in their history.

The same principle could apply come the England Tests, only this time it could be relevant to the Boks.

It is disappointing that White did not pick two completely different squads to play two completely different styles in the two Tests against England. He would have had two options to review in the build-up to the crucial pool match against England in Paris at the 2007 World Cup.

But it serves no purpose to lament the missed opportunity. White has picked his squad and all that is relevant now is to focus on how those players do against Ireland and England.

They will have to play well to beat Ireland, but even if they play well they may struggle to overcome what could be a desperate England team.

The eternal optimists will always tout a three-nil Bok success story and if it doesn't happen they'll reflect on the summer's cricket. The pessimists will think it is fait accompli that it will be three-nil reverse.

Those of us who dabble in realism, will take two from three as a job well done and one from three as the job expected to be done. Three from three would be the greatest Christmas gift South African rugby would have experienced since 1997 when Nick Mallett's machine blazed through Europe. No return from three starts will demand accountability and consequence.

This is a tour about winning while you develop, just like SA rugby should be able to win while transforming. One does not mask as an excuse for failure in the other.

If the priorities are two-fold as to what has to be achieved on this tour, then there is hope. But that is the big if at this juncture. We'll have a hint of what the priorities are in Dublin, but we'll only know after Twickenham.

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