Springbok rugby will be a bigger beneficiary of the Lions having to travel to Christchurch to play the Crusaders in a Super Rugby final.
The Lions and the psyche of the South African rugby supporter will win if the Lions host next weekend’s final.
But a home final for the Lions won’t make Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus any wiser in answering those questions that were most pertinent in the June internationals.
Primary to those questions is Elton Jantjies as a Test flyhalf in the biggest Tests, and in those decisive big play occasions. Also significant is the inability of South Africa’s franchises and the Springboks to win away from home.
South Africa’s away Super Rugby win ratio in 2018 has been negligible. The only away Test in 2018, against Wales in the United States, also ended in tears.
The Lions will host Super Rugby’s final if the Hurricanes beat the Crusaders and the Lions beat the Waratahs.
The latter is a given. It won’t be a contest.
The Waratahs historically have only a 28 percent success in South Africa. The Lions, at Ellis Park, have proved near unstoppable in playoff matches over the last three seasons. The only time they have stumbled, in six, was the 2017 final against the Crusaders.
They played the last 50 minutes with 14 players and still came within a whisker of taking the title. It was credit to the quality of the Crusaders that they emerged as the first ever foreign team to win the title away from home in South Africa.
It also showed just how strong the Lions are at home.
I have no doubt that the Lions, if they were to play the Hurricanes in the final, would be victorious. But it wouldn’t reflect a measurement of what that would mean in the context of South Africa playing New Zealand in the Rugby Championship.
I’ve been bullish about the Springboks’ Rugby Championship prospects. I’ve picked them to win the title and for New Zealand to place third behind Australia. I remain confident this can happen, but I would be reassured having judged an impressive Lions away display in Christchurch.
I wouldn’t expect the Lions to win because of the travel demands and turnaround time, but the type of performance would give greater insight and substance to the Springboks’ prospects when playing the All Blacks in New Zealand.
The Lions pack would monster the Hurricanes at Ellis Park and while the Kiwis would score some great tries, they don’t have the balance between forwards and backs to compete with the Lions in Johannesburg.
Jantjies, behind a pack on the charge, is impressive. We’ve seen it time and again in Super Rugby. It’s not a situation that happens easily in Test rugby against the best teams, especially the finest of them (in New Zealand).
The Lions pack, at best, would be competitive in Christchurch. They wouldn’t dominate, and it’s here where Jantjies then would have the opportunity of a simulated Test occasion.
There is a desire from Erasmus and his coaches for Jantjies to succeed but being a general in a one-sided battle at home is not going to dispel all the doubts that at Test level he is more a vulnerable infantry soldier than a general.
If Jantjies could go to Christchurch and give a flyhalf performance of assurance, it would revive his international possibilities post the disaster against England at Newlands.
A South African team performance away from home would also add more to the psychology of the Springboks than another altitude-inspired home romp.
The World Cup is also not being played at Ellis Park, and the Springboks, because of the tournament schedule have the rare luxury of being able to play the All Blacks and not face tournament elimination.
The two are in the same grouping and whatever the Pool match outcome, they go into different sides of the draw. The only time they could then meet would be in the final.
I’d back Erasmus’s Boks to beat the All Blacks at Loftus this season, but it’s the performance in Wellington, New Zealand that will be more pertinent to the World Cup possibilities of victory.
The experience of an away Lions final in New Zealand could be the mental differentiator to a long overdue Springboks win against the All Blacks in New Zealand.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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