The Springboks in 2017 have won back respect and I expect them to run the All Blacks very close in Albany on Saturday.
Let’s take a moment and celebrate that we can actually entertain the prospect of a Test match on Saturday and not an 80 minute time waste.
The Boks will be competitive and after the horror of 2016 that’s already a mountain climbed for Eben Etzebeth’s charges.
It would still come as a shock if the Springboks won; just like it comes as a shock if any team beats the All Blacks in New Zealand.
The All Blacks have taken a hammering for inconsistency in performance this year, but there has to be context to what is considered rugby inconsistency and All Blacks inconsistency.
Steve Hansen’s All Blacks have made the poorest start to a season since Hansen took charge in 2012. Hansen’s All Blacks currently are five wins and a draw from seven Tests. The wins include a 30-15 success against a British and Irish Lions team rated the strongest to ever be assembled in the professional era, a runaway win against Samoa, an away 50 pointer against Australia in Sydney and 19 tries scored in three Rugby Championship matches.
The only defeat came when the All Blacks played 55 minutes of the second Test against the Lions with 14 men, after Sonny Bill Williams was red carded. Ironically the All Blacks still managed to lead 18-9 and 21-14 until late in the Test. The Lions took the lead 24-21 in the 77th minute to a controversial penalty and won the second Test. The third Test was drawn 15-all. The Lions, in the three Test series, only ever led for those last two minutes in Wellington.
The All Blacks’ inconsistency has been in their defensive structures seemingly broken at will but the counter is that they tend to immediately strike back and score their own tries at a greater ease.
The men in black are definitely victims of their own successes.
If the Springboks, Ireland or England had scored 19 tries in three Tests against Australia and Argentina, we’d be anointing them as among the greatest to play the game. If any of these three sides put 40 points past Australia in 40 minutes we’d be talking of them being world champions.
The All Blacks scored six tries to one against Argentina and were given a rev in New Zealand. It is madness but it is madness because no team should ever internationally dominate a sport as New Zealand has since the start of the 2011 World Cup.
It is the consistency to their game that makes them so good but also allows their occasional failure or perceived failure to be so highlighted.
Test rugby should be about not knowing who is going to win, especially when the best teams play each other. For a while now that kind of Test happened midweek when the All Blacks squared up in training.
Ireland have for a while threatened with consistent performances against the All Blacks but they have not shown overall consistency. The Irish scored a first ever win against the All Blacks but then lost to Wales and Scotland in the Six Nations. England have been the most consistent of the Six Nations teams but they haven’t played the All Blacks since Eddie Jones took over, and the only time they played the Springboks was at the end of last year, when the Boks were at an all-time low.
England play the All Blacks in 2018 and also play the Springboks four times, three in South Africa and one at Twickenham. We’ll know just who are the contenders and pretenders to the 2019 World Cup after 2018.
The good news is South Africa has risen again and the respect from within New Zealand’s rugby fraternity is there. A lot has to do with the performance of the Lions in Super Rugby and the reaction of the Crusaders in beating the Lions in Johannesburg to win Super Rugby this season showed what it meant for the Kiwis to win in South Africa.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read seemed more embarrassed a year ago than the then Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss at the All Blacks’ record-breaking 57-15 win against the Springboks in Durban.
Read told the media it felt surreal and something that shouldn’t really happen. He may have felt the same way in those 40 minutes in Sydney earlier in the Rugby Championship when the All Blacks scored 40 points.
All Blacks versus Springboks clashes should never produce such one-sided dominance. Hopefully sanity will again play out in Albany.
The Springboks have won just one from their last 10 against the All Blacks and since 1996 have won just 14 from 51.
It’s that perspective that needs to be reinforced when considering the merits of how we assess each team’s season.
The Springboks have drawn one and won five. The All Blacks have drawn one, lost one and won five. The statistics point to it being a contest and not a Test played between one team on a high and one supposedly on a low.
The All Blacks will have to play well to beat the Boks but I expect them to win the Test, especially because it is in New Zealand.
I don’t expect the All Blacks to get given their due if they beat what is a good Springboks team because there is no longer an appreciation for when the All Blacks win; only for when they draw or lose.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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