Boks must bury wounded Wallabies

Michael Cheika (AP)
Michael Cheika (AP)

Cape Town - For too long now, there has been very little separating the Springboks and the Wallabies … and not in a good way. 

While both sides represent proud rugby nations, results post-2015 have been bitterly disappointing and it is safe to say that the Boks and Wallabies are nowhere near being the forces in world rugby they once were.

Neither has provided any real competition to the All Blacks' overwhelming dominance, while the coaching staffs of both sides, at different times, have come under serious fire.

Allister Coetzee lost his job at the end of last year, and from the outside looking in it seems that Wallabies boss Michael Cheika is currently hanging on by a thread. 

It is highly improbable that Australian Rugby will pull the plug on Cheika this close to a World Cup, but there is no doubt that the 51-year-old is feeling the heat. That much was evident in his post-match press conference following a loss at home to Argentina two weekends ago.

That result did not go down well with the Australian public, and it also saw the Wallabies slip to 7th in the world rankings. 

Images of an Aussie fan verbally attacking flank Lukhan Tui after the final whistle of that match spoke volumes and left the Wallabies and Cheika firmly on the ropes. 

Going into Saturday's Rugby Championship clash in Port Elizabeth, it is the Boks who have all the momentum following their stunning 36-34 win over the All Blacks in Wellington. 

That momentum, however, will count for nothing if it does not translate into a dominant Springbok display and all the good work from Westpac Stadium, where the Boks left as heroes, will be undone if they slip up at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. 

The performance is as important as the result. 

When Coetzee was under pressure in 2016, he recalled Morne Steyn for a must-win fixture against the Wallabies at Loftus as the Bulls legend kicked four penalties and two drop goals to give the Boks an uninspiring 18-10 win. 

A year later, with Coetzee still under pressure, the sides drew 27-27 in Bloemfontein in a result that didn't help anybody. 

In the Championship in 2018, the Boks turned out comfortably their worst performance of the year in Brisbane when they fell to a 23-18 defeat, while the away fixture last year also ended in a draw. 

All too often when these sides have met in recent times, it has been a case of one side being slightly less poor than the other and it has made for some frustrating contests. 

Now, on home soil, the Boks have a chance to lay down a marker. 

Australia have not won in South Africa since 2011 and the hosts will be the overwhelming favourites once again, but this time around the Boks need to be convincing.

At present, Ireland and England are considered the sides most capable of challenging the All Blacks at the World Cup next year. 

If the Boks are to be a permanent fixture in that conversation, then a ruthless, powerful and one-sided win in PE would go a long way. 

They need to show that what happened in Wellington was by no means a one-off affair, and that it was instead indicative of a side on its way back to the summit of world rugby. 

The Boks have shown that, under Rassie Eramus, they are evolving into a unit capable of playing an enterprising brand that feeds off a solid base at set piece and massive defence. 

Increasingly, it is starting to look like the ingredients are all there.

The Springbok/Wallaby rivalry has lost its glow since 2016, and much of that has to do with the fact that both sides have gone through dark times. 

But on Saturday, in front of what is expected to be a sold-out PE crowd, the Boks can show that there is now clear daylight between themselves and Cheika and his Wallabies. 

The Aussies are swaying, seemingly on their last legs, and the Boks are primed to land one massive, thunderous knockout blow.

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