Sorry, Boks ... only faint title hope

Rassie Erasmus (AP)
Rassie Erasmus (AP)

Cape Town - The fate of the 2018 Rugby Championship remains unsealed ... so can South Africa still sneak a title win against the odds?

Well, guard against getting your hopes up too high just because of the Springboks' fabulous, shock victory over the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday, which delayed the hot favourites' march to retention of the silverware.

But the cat WILL be among the pigeons, setting up an effective final at Loftus between SA and NZ on October 6, if two results tee up that scenario the Saturday beforehand.

READ: Bok team: There ARE still some gaps

Should the Boks knock over Australia in Port Elizabeth (fairly likely, you would think) and then Argentina upset the All Blacks in Buenos Aires a few hours later, Pretoria will almost certainly get a winner-takes-all climax.

As things stand, New Zealand have 16 points from four of their six matches, with the Boks a reasonably distant second on 10. The gap, however, would shrink to perhaps as little as a point or two if those two outcomes on September 29 materialise.

The Wallabies, remember, have not beaten the Boks on our soil since 2011, and Rassie Erasmus' charges will be additionally motivated to set right the Brisbane setback of two Saturdays ago.

But the far less likely event - regrettably, if you are a Bok supporter - is the Pumas playing their part in the "deal".

Perhaps the really formidable stat first: as many as 96 Test matches have passed for the All Blacks since they last lost twice in a row, and they will be itching to right the ship quickly in Argentina after the events in the Cake Tin.

Those two defeats on the trot occurred in 2011, the final year of the former Tri-Nations: the Boks beat them 18-5 in Port Elizabeth and then Australia won 25-20 in Brisbane.

The closest NZ have ever come since to successive reverses was in the enthralling 2017 British and Irish Lions series when, after winning the first Test, the Lions bounced back in the second, and the pivotal third was drawn to split the series.

But then there's also the record in Argentina of the All Blacks to consider ... and it, too, also fails to throw out good news for South Africans.

New Zealand have won 10 of 11 bilateral Tests in Argentina (they lead 26-0 in all clashes, with one draw), and the lone hiccup (of sorts) was as far back as 1985 when a 21-21 result was registered in Buenos Aires.

No less ominously for those dreaming of a serious Pumas upset - at least they'll be in good spirits after pipping the Wallabies away - the All Blacks have usually won in that country with quite a bit to spare since 2012, when Argentina joined the all-new Rugby Championship.

It was a runaway 54-15 for the All Blacks that year (La Plata), and they have continued to rule the roost with some ease ever since.

The 2013 result was 33-15, in 2014 it was 34-13, then came 36-17 (2016; there was no game between them in Argentina itself in 2015) and finally 36-10 last year.

So it is clear there is anything but mental baggage for the world champions when they visit South America, and the meeting will also come not too long after an experimental All Black side won 46-24 in the home Championship game at Nelson.

NZ usually win with a bonus point in Argentina, and if they do so again at the weekend - taking them to 21 log points - they are finally, mathematically uncatchable for the trophy even if the Boks have disposed of the Wallabies with a full house themselves earlier.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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