PE win would be big laurel for Rassie

Rassie Erasmus (AP)
Rassie Erasmus (AP)

Cape Town - Just the basic victory ... four log points.

Barring shuddering, cat-among-the-pigeons developments in Buenos Aires a few hours later (read: an Argentinean triumph over New Zealand), that should amount to confirmation of at least the runners-up spot for South Africa in the 2018 Rugby Championship with one full round left to play.

By beating Australia, even minus an accompanying bonus point, at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday, the Springboks would shift to 14 points from their current 10.

It would automatically ensure that the currently bottom-placed Wallabies (five points) are put right out of reach of them, regardless of whether they then earn an academic, revenge triumph over the Pumas in Argentina a week later.

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But the South American side (eight points, and presently in third) would also be massively unlikely to be able to haul in the Boks if they lose to the All Blacks this weekend, whether they snaffle a consolation bonus point or not.

Banking one log point in defeat would see them creep up to nine on the table, but their “for and against” points situation (minus 18 as things stand) would also deteriorate further against the Boks, who should move into credit from their present minus three with a PE victory.

All of that maths would be rendered irrelevant anyway for the final weekend if Rassie Erasmus’s charges earn a full-house triumph (five points) over the Australians in the Friendly City, taking them to 15 points and thus finally out of reach of both the Wallabies and Pumas, assuming that the latter have failed to beat NZ.

Should the Pumas win, it would be their first ever victory over the All Blacks - they have made 27 failed attempts thus far.

That result seems even less likely considering that the world champions are smarting from their unexpected 36-34 Wellington reverse at the hands of the Boks and will hardly lack motivation to restore normal service.

Kieran Read and company prevailing in Buenos Aires (bear in mind that their points differential is a vastly superior 73 right now) without a bonus point almost certainly ensures they cannot be overhauled to the title, meaning a third successive Championship triumph.

Victory with the maximum five log points on offer - propelling them to 21 - would entirely shut the door on the title, even if the Boks have earlier picked up five themselves. 

Yet the Boks securing second spot after the weekend’s action is completed - and they’d have another stab anyway, in the event of PE defeat, when they host the All Blacks at Loftus on October 6 - would be a more pleasing development than many observers may realise.

That is due to the fact that the obsession with catching up to the New Zealanders in recent years has slightly obscured the damning truth that the Boks haven’t even managed the runners-up mantle in the southern hemisphere competition for the past three completed ones.

There is nothing wrong with taking baby steps toward a greater goal, and an elusive one in all of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 tournaments has been the Boks even just grabbing “silver”.

 The shortened 2015 one - in a World Cup year - saw the Wallabies snatch it (the only time since inception in 2012 that any team but NZ has landed the trophy) with the Boks getting the relative ignominy of the wooden spoon.

But the Boks were curtailed to a disappointing third in each of Allister Coetzee’s two years in charge of the national team, pipped on each occasion for second by the Australians.

They were last runners-up on two occasions in the four-year Heyneke Meyer era: 2013 and 2014.

So they are highly likely to ensure their best Championship finish in four years if they win in Port Elizabeth this weekend.

Should that occur, Erasmus is entitled to argue that it is a sign of truly tangible progress.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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