Boks to pile on misery for Oz?

Jean de Villiers and JJ Engelbrecht (Gallo Images)
Jean de Villiers and JJ Engelbrecht (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - How much weight should be placed on the form guide in contemplating the likely outcome of the Castle Rugby Championship clash between Australia and South Africa in Brisbane on Saturday week?

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If most recent results are deemed to carry any notable relevance, then it is the Springboks who should swiftly be installed as favourites – for the two teams’ fortunes of late could hardly be more contrasting.

The Boks are on a victorious streak of eight matches under Heyneke Meyer’s coaching regime, stretching back to the opening game of their 2012 northern hemisphere tour on November 10 against Ireland in Dublin.

But the Wallabies are on a three-game sequence of reverses, so if both winning and losing are indeed 'habits', it can be argued with some conviction that the South African camp is much the more appealing one to be in ahead of the meeting on September 7.

Yet it would also be an injustice to obsess too much with win-loss statistics in the lead-up, given that the Australians come off a five-match Test sequence in 2013 exclusively against real juggernauts of world rugby: first, three encounters with the signature British and Irish Lions and then two nasty opening fixtures in the Championship against their World Cup-holding trans-Tasman rivals.

As revered former Wallaby skipper John Eales said in his column in the Sydney Morning Herald, after the latest setback (27-16) against New Zealand in Wellington: "A raw look at results so far this year indicates an unsatisfactory four losses from five matches but when you consider the calibre of opposition – the best players out of Britain and Ireland plus the All Blacks – it is a tough academy."

Clearly the lanky second-rower hasn’t lost all faith in the current, embattled Wallabies crop as he added that "the encouraging out-take from Saturday was that the Wallabies showed greater maturity in their game plan."

Considering that both the Lions and All Blacks (the latter at least until the academic leftover Bledisloe Cup match later in the year) are safely out of the way now, there is also an understandable sentiment that the Aussies can only get better from here.

Also writing in the Herald, scribe Paul Cully said on Monday: "A return to the winners’ circle against the Springboks in two weeks is within reach of this current squad.

"Too much can be read into frailties on show against the All Blacks – the Wallabies will not play another side this year that feasts so routinely on errors."

The inference was clear: even though they are ranked No 2 on the planet, behind only the sublime All Blacks, the Boks come from a far less intimidating tier.

Now it will be up to South Africa to dispel that notion, and a good way to do it would be to break their horrible Brisbane hoodoo, one that has seen them lose eight times on the trot at various venues in the sub-tropical city since their last triumph at the old Exhibition Ground (14-6) in 1971.

Still, if Jean de Villiers’s team will be wrestling a jinx, the greater pre-match fragility is sure to still radiate out of the Wallaby camp under their new, nought-from-two coach Ewen McKenzie who has not had the most rave of personal reviews in the domestic media thus far in his short tenure.

Should the Australians stumble again, it will be their fourth loss in succession, something that last occurred for them ironically in 2009, when it was the Boks’ turn to first host a Lions tour before the formerly-named Tri-Nations began.

South Africa won that series 2-1, whereas four years on the Wallabies have been on the receiving end by the same margin to the tradition-steeped combo from northern climes.

And whereas the Aussies have continued to flounder (thus far, anyway) in the immediate aftermath of that money-spinning Lions safari, John Smit’s Boks of 2009 actually only seemed to go up a gear afterwards in romping to the Tri-Nations crown – the last time they have ruled the roost in the southern hemisphere.

The Wallabies were deadbeats that year, winning only one of their six games in the tournament, and their four-game catalogue of losses on the trot during that Tri-Nations included 29-17 defeat to South Africa at Newlands and 32-25 to them in Perth.

Have the exertions required during the Lions series sucked more out of the 2013 Wallabies than was the case with the Boks four years ago?

An alternative view, from optimists Down Under, might be that the Aussie players have been hardened by their 2013 'itinerary from hell' to this point, and gradually learned some salient lessons in the process while the Boks were seeing off -- with extremely varying degrees of polish – a bunch of lesser lights on the world stage.

Brisbane on Saturday week really ought to serve clear notice as to whether South Africa’s fresh ambitions to ascend to No 1 can be taken seriously ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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