Boks slowly banishing big weakness

Cape Town - Three away wins in a row ... if the Springboks can secure that feat by seeing off recent bogey side Wales in Saturday’s Cardiff season-closer for them, they will have made a significant statement of their mettle.

It will also ensure that South African supporters take their “rugby recess” for a couple of months feeling fairly vibrant about the Boks’ mounting readiness for a strong assault on the World Cup in Japan later next year.

A 75 percent European tour record would be a positive statistic; that’s virtually indisputable at a time of year when the harder-pressed Bok players of 2018 are not necessarily at prime levels of physical or mental sharpness.

Lose to the Welsh for the fourth time on the trot in bilateral tussles - though bear in mind the Scarlets are two notches ahead of South Africa, in third on the global rankings - and national sentiment will remain rather more on the iffy side as the Boks come home with a no better than par, 50 percent tour success.

But a victory in Cardiff, however ugly or fortuitous it might turn out to be, would represent a really tangible signal that these Boks mean business, regardless of location, in the vital short- to medium term.

If they can eclipse the Welsh in their own den, suddenly the Boks are looking so much more like a side with the necessary temperament and ability to grind out consistent triumphs “on the road” - naturally a non-negotiable if you genuinely aspire to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in the Far East.

As it is, coach Rassie Erasmus rightly seemed to adopt “growing maturity” as his major post-match theme in media opportunities after Saturday’s Murrayfield victory over an unrelentingly tenacious and far from unskilful Scotland.

In a further justification for that theory, his charges arguably played some of their most intense, calm and sensible rugby when under most challenging circumstances in the Edinburgh tussle: the period when Willie le Roux was dubiously yellow-carded.

If they do secure a hat-trick of away wins, it would mean that after an awkward start in foreign climes under Erasmus’s tutelage - successive losses to Wales, Argentina and Australia – they would end 2018 with a much more stable away record of four from eight.

Cardiff triumph would also mean they had won four of their last five away fixtures, including that highly unexpected one against the All Blacks in Wellington, with just the lone slip-up along the way: a controversial one-point reverse to England at Twickenham.

The Boks, in the prior two-year tenure of Allister Coetzee, never managed to win three in a row and only managed a two-game sequence of away victories once: against France (18-17) and Italy (35-6) on the 2017 end-of-year tour.

The last time they earned three in a row off South African soil, it ended up more precisely being four, even though the odd “soft” game was involved during group play at the 2015 World Cup.

In that phase under Heyneke Meyer’s guidance, they put the Japan fiasco at Brighton well behind them to beat Samoa in Birmingham, Scotland in Newcastle and the United States in London, plus then Wales in a quarter-final.

The last time the Boks had a meaningful away sequence of wins outside of the RWC landscape, also with Meyer at the coaching tiller, it was again four in a row, split over two seasons.

They pipped Argentina away 33-31 early in the Rugby Championship of 2014, and that had been preceded by a clean sweep of the 2013 European tour: wins against Wales (24-15), Scotland (28-0) and France (19-10) in that order.

At the time, the Bok cause was greatly aided by the presence of several crusty stalwarts, some of whom had already won some of rugby’s highest honours - names like JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du Plessis and Bakkies Botha - and were well versed in the different needs of foreign terrain.

But there are budding signs that some of the 2018 personnel, both more experienced and slightly less so, are noticeably digesting many of the necessary tricks to nosing out tough contests in hostile territory.

Hopefully, Cardiff will only underline that.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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