Next Rassie task: Regain ground on All Blacks

Rassie Erasmus (Getty Images)
Rassie Erasmus (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Clawing back some much-needed statistical terrain from their fiercest rivals of all - the All Blacks - will be one of the major priorities of the Springboks’ World Cup-winning coach Rassie Erasmus as he shifts more actively into his role as director of rugby from 2020 onward.

Although a new head coach will have to be named, Erasmus will remain a pivotal figure in the Bok set-up ... and the diligent planner’s immediate future, with the national team now holding the Webb Ellis Cup and sitting atop the world rankings, must include a spirited quest to start beating New Zealand more regularly again.

South Africa (94.19 points) are some two clear of second-placed NZ (92.11) following the All Blacks’ slip to bronze-medal status at RWC 2019 after successive World Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2015, while England - who beat the men in black in a semi-final in Japan - lie third (88.82).

There are key other matters to prepare for in the short to medium term, like the lucrative 2021 visit of the British and Irish Lions to our shores, but in the interim the Boks will get to lock horns again with the All Blacks twice in a Rugby Championship next year that reverts to fuller, double-round status between the competing nations.

If Siya Kolisi’s World Cup champions aspire to only grow and prove their RWC success was no flash in the plan, they must target not just retention of the Championship crown, but ideally victory - formidable though the requirement is - in both the home and away clashes with the old enemy in 2020.

That would really be a major statement of Bok intentions going forward, with both Erasmus and Kolisi still very much at the fulcrum of things.

After all, even as the major distraction loomed of the eventually surrendered RWC semi against losing finalists England, outgoing All Black coach Steve Hansen had reminded at a press conference in the lead-up to that match: “I think South Africa will always be our biggest rival.”

His motivation for saying that would have been fuelled, almost certainly, by just how dramatically the Boks have begun to be properly competitive again in clashes against them, since Erasmus took the strategic tiller from 2018 onward.

All four encounters in the period have been ding-dong affairs, to the extent that, up until the World Cup early pool meeting in Yokohama, the teams completely level-pegged in “Hansen v Erasmus” meetings: a win, draw and loss each, with identical points for and against, into the bargain.

But then the All Blacks won that RWC game 23-13 (even if fate was to then work pretty kindly for the Boks in their knockout-phase roster) to ensure Hansen snuck ahead of his counterpart again in bilateral bragging rights.

While it was a match the Boks could just as easily have won with better composure - they leaked two tries in a costly four-minute period, but were otherwise right in the tussle - they were later at least able to boast that they became the first side to lose a group match and yet go on to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup.

But now the task begins of South Africa more actively (and realistically, you would think?) repairing the modern balance when it comes to win record against the All Blacks.

They seem to have much of the ammunition required - including potentially greater depth of squad personnel in key areas - to begin an overdue period of new dominance over the New Zealanders.

The Boks now shed a few once-staple names from their mix through retirements, an inevitable event at the end of every four-year World Cup cycle, but so do the All Blacks: Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Liam Squire, Sonny Bill Williams and Matt Todd are among those lost to the NZ cause from here, even if one or two of them still have options open for rethink at a later point.

South Africa will retain, for example, the nucleus of their highly assertive reservoir of RWC 2019 forwards, and that alone gives them a rosy chance of clean-sweeping New Zealand in the next calendar year: something last done by SA (3-0) in 2009, when John Smit’s Boks won in all of Durban, Bloemfontein and Hamilton en route to the then Tri-Nations title.

Since then the All Blacks, by contrast, have achieved that against the Boks in all of 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

It goes some way to explaining the painful, professional-era (1996 and onward) mastery of NZ in bilateral encounters: 41-15, which has dramatically turned around the earlier Bok dominance (21-18 in the long period ending with the 1995 RWC final triumph).

New Zealand now lead 59-36 overall, with four draws.

The last time the All Blacks failed to win the World Cup - but South Africa again did - in 2007, the Boks couldn’t establish specific supremacy over NZ the following season: they were outdone 2-1, including a Newlands match where the hosts couldn’t notch a single point in a 19-0 setback.

Will the current world-champion Boks be guilty of the same "mistake", so soon after their global crowning?

They SHOULD be capable of significantly better against their fiercest historical foes in 2020 ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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