Key to the next All Blacks game for the Box before the World Cup

Key to the next All Blacks game for the Box before the World Cup

Ask any Springbok, past or present, and they will tell you that the Test against the All Blacks remains the biggest challenge for a South African rugby player.

Some list their Test debut as a career highlight, but many describe their first match against New Zealand as their “second debut”. The prolific Brighton Bulls winger once stated that the players did not consider themselves to be true Springboks until they faced the All Blacks.

This year, that rivalry and quest for bragging rights may continue over three games. After facing the All Blacks in Auckland on July 15th, the Boks will face New Zealand in a World Cup warm-up (if a test against the All Blacks can be considered anything as mundane as a warm-up) at Twickenham on August 25th.

A third meeting in the quarter-finals of the World Cup or later in the tournament could follow – depending on their respective paths if both qualify for the knockout stages.

Oakland is the main chapter in the trilogy

The first match in Auckland will be particularly significant for a number of reasons.

The Boks would attempt a result that would put them on their way to a rugby championship title.

Another positive result would extend their unbeaten run in New Zealand to three matches. It could mark a turning point in a rivalry that stretches back more than a century.

The Boks have recorded just four wins against New Zealand’s All Blacks since the dawn of the professional era in 1996. They had to wait nine long years before notching that fourth win in 2018.

Makazul Mpembe of South Africa fights for possession of the ball during the rugby championship match between South Africa and New Zealand at Emirates Airline Park on August 13, 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Getty Images)

It’s a notoriously difficult place to tour, yet recent victories by South Africa, Ireland and Argentina have proven the Men in Black are far from unbeaten on New Zealand soil.

However, in Oakland, the All Blacks still possessed some old-fashioned aura. The Boks haven’t won a match against the All Blacks in New Zealand’s largest city since 1937.

Hennicke Meyer’s charges appeared well placed to break the curse in 2013 but were severely compromised after referee Romain Boet sent off the hooker Bismarck du Plessis and reduced the visitors to 14 men.

World Rugby later admitted that Poite had made a mistake on the call, but this admission did not change the outcome.

Perhaps the Boks will view the next game as the perfect opportunity to end their drought. It will be staged at Mount Smart Stadium and not the famous Eden Park – a cemetery for many visiting teams.

Moreover, the All Blacks have been on the decline for the past four or five years, and will come back from a traumatic encounter against Argentina in Mendoza in the first round of the 2023 Rugby Championship. Ian Foster’s side may be there to take it.

Send the best to New Zealand

Bok’s coaches highlighted the significance of the first Rugby Championship match against Australia in Pretoria. That’s fair given the South Africans’ proud history at Loftus Versfeld and their drive to travel to New Zealand with score points in the bag.

But the game in Auckland should be their priority. If they are successful in the New Zealand stronghold, they will improve their chances of winning the rugby championship, and deliver a psychological blow ahead of their subsequent encounters against the All Blacks in Europe later this year.

Bok coaches indicated their intentions last week.

SA Rugby’s press release revealing the team that will face Australia in the opening match of the Rugby Championship included information about the 14-man advance squad traveling to New Zealand.

The Boks look promising in their third year of the World Cup cycle

Siya Kolisi of South Africa and Len Ikitau of Australia during the rugby championship test match between the Wallabies and Springboks at Allianz Stadium in Sydney, Australia, on September 3, 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE/DEAN LEWINS)

As expected, the latter group includes most of the players who started the big Tests in 2021 and 2022. Departing for New Zealand on July 4 and 5, these players will have nine days to acclimate to local conditions and time zone before facing off at Mount Smart Stadium.

Some of the players selected to face the Wallabies will have to fly across 10 time zones, adapt to local conditions in a short amount of time, and then start their second test in seven days.

Stephen Ketchoff, Frans Malherbe, Peter Steve du Toit, and Willy Le Roux are just some of the individuals who may need to play catch-up.

Damien Willemsey, who was named on the bench for the match against Australia, may be pushed into the starting line-up at number 10 against New Zealand.

Psychological points shown

This Bok side has overcome this particular challenge before. Again in 2019 they crushed the Wallabies 35-17 in Johannesburg before securing a 16-16 draw against the All Blacks in Wellington.

These results prepared them to win the Rugby Championship title, which they clinched after a 46-13 win over Argentina in Salta.

Coaches and players have reason to believe that the 2019 selection policy will produce similar results in the coming weeks. They will also know that there is something more serious going on in the 2023 season.

Should the Boks tick the box in New Zealand, and fulfill their rugby championship title ambitions after that, the stage is set for an impressive rematch at Twickenham in August.

In this scenario, the All Blacks will be desperate for a pre-World Cup result, but the Boks may be equally determined to go “2-0” up ahead of a potential meeting with their old foes in the quarter-finals of the 2023 FIFA World Cup.

The Boks are unlikely to finish the 2023 season undefeated. Schedule requirements require a fair amount of team rotation, and this can jeopardize their quest to win consistently. Although they will be aiming for first place in their World Cup group, there is a chance they will fall to Ireland, who are ranked No. 1 in the world.

But, as was the case in 2019, a loss in the pool stage will not necessarily affect South Africa’s chances of winning the World Cup. If they finish Group B as runners-up, they will face the winner of Group A, which should be France or New Zealand.

And if they make a play-off against the All Blacks, having won their previous two matches in Auckland and London, they will fancy their chances of advancing to the play-off spot and becoming the first South African team to win back-to-back World Cups. DM

This article first appeared in The Daily MaverickThe weekly sister publication DM168, available nationwide for the R29.


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