Boks: Why beating Pumas isn’t only about trophy

Rassie Erasmus (AP)
Rassie Erasmus (AP)

Cape Town - The Springboks winning their closing Rugby Championship clash with Argentina in Salta nine days from here carries a deeper importance than simply its rich potential for clinching the 2019 title for them.

We all know that the abbreviated competition carries less gravitas in a World Cup year, although the 10-year gap in South Africa actually landing the southern hemisphere title is one good reason for a really strong push against the Pumas on their own, often formidable terrain next Saturday.

A bonus-point triumph automatically does the trick; a lesser one might also be enough for Rassie Erasmus’s charges, depending on what has occurred in the earlier Australia v New Zealand tussle at Perth.

But beating Argentina at the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena goes beyond just the silverware being up for grabs.

It would be another, important statement of a gradually stiffening Bok resolve in hostile climes - something that will naturally be pivotal to their desire to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup at the end of RWC 2019 in Japan.

Win seven matches on the trot at the tournament, of course, and you are guaranteed to be champions, even if six (or perhaps even five if your group phase has been erratic but just good enough to advance to the knockouts) can also be enough.

The bottom line, though, is that you have to show suitable levels of durability and nous away from your most familiar habitat (unless you are host nation Japan themselves, hardly deemed among the front-runners) to win it.

That is what makes the Boks’ looming task in Salta - against a solid, generally “mid-table” sort of global power in a full list of World Cup competitors - a decent barometer of their readiness in that regard, a few weeks later at the World Cup itself.

The Springboks’ away win record since Erasmus took the reins for the 2018 international season still has a pretty fragile look in overall statistical terms: up to the present, it is played nine, won three, drawn one, lost five – so 33.33 percent.

But it also doesn’t tell the full story, given that it began badly and has shown an improving trend more recently.

Last season, for example, the Boks lost all of the first three games abroad under Erasmus’s fledgling command: to Wales in Washington DC (a strange exercise, featuring severely watered-down sides), plus Argentina and Australia on enemy turf when hostilities moved into the Championship.

But then they bounced back in a major way for the fabulous 36-34 upset of the All Blacks in Wellington, before winning two (France, Scotland) and losing two (England, Wales) on their end-of-season tour.

You might also argue that it is unfortunate their gutsy latest stalemate at the Cake Tin doesn’t count for anything in the win percentage column; any nation sharing the spoils with the world champions in New Zealand itself deserves to almost feel like winners.

South Africa will shift further upward to a 40 percent win record under Erasmus if they win in Salta.

Nevertheless, the All Blacks remain the runaway best of the three most long-standing southern hemisphere rivals when it comes to winning with pleasing consistency abroad.

Their away record over the same period in which Erasmus has been at the Bok tiller reads a handsome 88.88 percent: played nine, won eight, lost one.

Their only blemish has been the 16-9 reverse to Ireland in Dublin at the end of last year, while the wins are made of successive triumphs (including very recently) in Argentina, plus ones abroad against Italy, England, Japan, Australia (twice) and the Boks themselves at Loftus last season.

As for the Wallabies, they have had a contrastingly rough old time of it overseas since the beginning of the 2018 Test season, and it is one firm reason why they are probably not considered at this stage among the top four or five teams for RWC honours.

Their record is only 11.11 percent, with one win from nine away internationals - and that against reasonably lowly Italy.

The Springboks, at a handy bend in the road, are getting better for steeliness off their own soil.

Underlining it in Salta would be additionally pleasing.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing...

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