The Springboks will win the Rugby Championship. The All Blacks won’t finish in the top two.
Not long after the Springboks won the series against England (with a Test to spare), the usual suspects (read the average South African rugby doomsday fan) was already conceding defeat to the All Blacks, based on the Springboks’ first two Test wins against England.
It went something like this: If we start like we did against England the All Blacks will hammer us; if our defence is as poor the All Blacks will hammer us; if we kick as much the All Blacks will hammer us; if we throw as many 50-50 passes the All Blacks will hammer us.
The All Blacks can’t really hammer us more than they have done in the past few seasons. Twice in the last two years they’ve put 57 points past the Springboks. One the one occasion, the Boks (in Albany, New Zealand) didn’t even score a point.
The All Blacks, over the last decade, have been the most magnificent side in the history of the game. They have won 90 percent of their Tests, beaten everyone home and away, played more Tests away from home than at home and won every trophy available, including successive World Cups, home and away.
Their quality and consistency has been unrivalled. No team, over a sustained period of near 10 years, has achieved as much success with players as talented.
But from what I have seen in the last 12 months, that incredible All Blacks era has peaked and the All Blacks graph is in decline and the chasing pack is starting to climb.
The current All Blacks, in no way, are comparable to the squad that won the 2015 World Cup.
The pack, in particular, can’t be spoken of in the same breath and currently they are without their two most influential forwards in the injured Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read. The duo may or may not be back for the Rugby Championship, but they will have to be at their peak to lift the quality of what is a very ordinary All Blacks pack.
The All Blacks backs are always world class, but it doesn’t matter who you pick in numbers 9-15, if your forwards aren’t up to it, you won’t consistently have dominance.
My retort to those who claimed that the Springboks were lucky they weren’t playing the All Blacks on the last two Saturdays is that the lucky ones are the All Blacks, that they weren’t in Johannesburg or Bloemfontein. Had they been, it would have been a series win for the Springboks against the All Blacks.
The All Blacks were woeful for an hour against a very limited French team in Auckland. They trailed 11-8 at half-time and at 55 minutes the match was tied up 11-all. It then took a sending off and mismatch in numbers to turn the game the way of the All Blacks.
In last weekend’s second Test, the All Blacks were even worse. They had the advantage of an extra player from the 12th minute after French fullback Benjamin Fall was red carded. They led 21-6 at half-time but lost the second half 7-5.
What was there to fear about the All Blacks? That’s the question I’d ask those who couldn’t acknowledge the quality of the Springboks’ back-to-back wins against an England side, who I would have backed to win both Tests against the All Blacks in New Zealand, given what the All Blacks produced.
To those who put the All Blacks on a pedestal so high that all visual of their fallibility is blurred, take an aerial view of the men in black. You’ll see more inglorious than glorious. The core of that wonderfully talented 2015 World Cup squad is gone.
The next generation isn’t anywhere near as potent.
Enter Rassie Erasmus and his Springboks.
Erasmus is building a pack of forwards that will be the envy of every coach. He is also, thanks to the inclusion of Lions head coach Swys de Bruin, adding an attacking dimension to South Africa’s back play.
South Africa, on balance, have more depth and quality in their forwards than New Zealand. The Wallabies have greater presence in their backs than the All Blacks.
I’m picking South Africa and Australia to be the top dogs in this year’s Rugby Championship, with New Zealand in the unfamiliar third place.
The All Blacks aren’t as good as many think and the Springboks and Wallabies are better than most think.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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