Cape Town – Already curtailed to a 50 percent win record after six matches in charge of the twice World Cup-winning Springboks, there is a profound risk head coach Rassie Erasmus will see it dip considerably further in what’s left of the 2018 Test season.
Much-maligned predecessor Allister Coetzee sported a 44 percent record on that front for his two years at the helm (2016 and 2017, with 11 wins from 25 Tests) and it is quite possible Erasmus will end his own year one around or even below that figure.
Put it this way: he will do pretty well to hang onto even the current 50 percent when you consider that his maiden season is about to only get tougher on paper: away and home against each of Australia and New Zealand next, followed by an end-of-year tour featuring, in this order, games against England, France, Scotland and Wales.
Only one of those opponents, the French, currently lie below seventh-placed South Africa in eighth and, as things stand, may even go into the Parisian fixture (November 10) as slight favourites based on home advantage.
Erasmus doesn’t even have the luxury of an “Italy”, with respect, on this year’s European trek: they are presently 14th.
A personal belief is that things are still a long way from the Armageddon for the Erasmus regime, bearing in mind how violently public and pundit sentiment can tilt - a little disloyally, over-emotionally? - just from one game to another.
That has been the case over the two Rugby Championship legs against Argentina, where general optimism followed the bonus-point victory in Durban … only to turn decidedly glass-half-empty when the Boks were whipped in Mendoza.
With that result probably went any hope at all of a concerted Bok assault on New Zealand’s outrageous dominance of the competition, something that would have been a long shot even before the 2018 event began.
Warts and all, Erasmus and his lieutenants have installed a more dynamic, faster-paced manner of play - albeit that it is accompanied by certain alarming AWOL tendencies on defence at this point - and begun to unearth a few possible long-term individual player gems as well.
He will also know already that the Mendoza game, which turned some people iffy toward him in the snap of the fingers, can be buried with some gusto in many minds if he engineers a win against the Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday week.
The Boks have not won in Australia since 2013, when they produced one of their finest showings of the Heyneke Meyer tenure, thrashing the Wallabies 38-12 at Suncorp Stadium, also to be scene of the looming battle.
Whatever happens there, considerably greater pressure will be heaped on Erasmus not to surrender the home (Port Elizabeth) Test against the Aussies, who last won on our soil shortly before the 2011 World Cup.
Successive wins against the Wallabies? Erasmus may find himself back as the bee’s knees if that scenario plays out … although sandwiched in between those fixtures, of course, is the daunting away one against the mighty All Blacks in the Wellington “Cake Tin”.
However Erasmus’s win record is looking after Brisbane - lose, and he will recede to 42.85 percent - one big favour he can do himself in New Zealand is to produce a suitably competitive performance against the heavy favourites, even in defeat.
That would at least help renew any hopes that the Boks may, indeed, be painstakingly closing the gap on the runaway world leaders, especially if the All Blacks are pipped or run very close in the Loftus follow-up.
In the event that his win percentage is looking either worse or no better than Coetzee’s by the end of 2018, Erasmus will claw back some brownie points among more sympathetic critics and observers if he has avoided genuine “video nasties” (or read: gruesome losses in scoreboard terms) by his charges.
That was an area where Coetzee, despite some good patches by his team, didn’t stand up well.
His reign included three abject hammerings out of four games against the All Blacks: 41-13 (Christchurch) and 57-15 (Durban) in 2016, and a particularly hideous 57-0 at Albany in 2017 before some regaining of pride in the tight dead-rubber defeat (25-24) at Newlands.
Another unwanted record-breaker for “Toetie’s” Boks was the 38-3 bludgeoning from Ireland in Dublin at the end of last year.
By avoiding such violent one-sidedness in defeats, the spin department around Erasmus can keep him looking a credible factor … even if wins are in shorter supply by the completion of 2018 than they would like to trumpet.
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