Strap yourselves in folks
A few weeks ago I wrote that the All Blacks and Springboks were on a collision course.
I guess the point of impact is nigh.
The Springboks are here in Auckland, they are saying all the right things, being very respectful about their opposition and haven’t even taken their trumpet out of the case, let alone blown it.
But deep inside themselves they must rate this their big chance to break a very long drought at Eden Park.
1937 was when it last happened, a 17-6 scoreline…a heavy margin in those days, achieved on the 25th of September, making it 11 days short of 76 years come kick-off this weekend.
That Springbok team was regarded by many as the finest ever touring side to come to New Zealand, at least until the 1971 Lions. They were initially led by Philip Nel, but in a shock move they handed the reins to a certain Danie Craven, who pretty much decided to hang onto them for the next 56 years.
Other famous names in that side were Gerry Brand, a man who history tells us drop kicked a goal from 77 metres in a test against England. The winning try in the second test was scored by a certain W.E. Bastard, and the books tell us the Boks also featured an immensely powerful prop in S.C. “Boy” Louw.
The closest South Africa has come to beating New Zealand at the Garden of Eden was an 18-all draw in 1994, when Brendan Venter ran around Shane Howarth to score and deny the All Blacks a clean sweep of the series.
It was earlier that same year that the ABs last lost a test at Eden Park, to the French. They have now won their last 30 on that pristine surface; hence it is regarded as a fortress.
So history is against the Boks, but if history, as Henry Ford once suggested, is indeed “bunk” then the Springboks must stand a good chance. That’s certainly the feeling around these parts.
Their performance against Australia probably has to be put into some sort of context….the Wallabies appear to be going from awful to 'awfuller', bereft of self-belief, out of ideas, and above all lacking any sort of presence at the front line. Having to take the outstanding James Horwill out of their team was like removing a steel girder from the Auckland Harbour Bridge and trying to hold it up with balsa wood logs.
But there was something quite awe inspiring about the power of the Springbok forwards, and the momentum they gained, the holes they blasted for the tries to be scored by the opportunists with the high numbers of their backs.
Their loose trio was particularly effective, in particular Francois Louw, who, if anything, appears to be a better player for his time spent in Europe, a rare thing indeed. He was sensational in the way he ransacked the Australians at the breakdown, although, again, he was aided by the Wallabies woeful support of the ball carrier.
It will be the job of the All Black tight five to deny the Boks the platform that was so comfortably achieved In Brisbane, and from which Louw, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts were able to launch.
I wouldn’t say for certain that the AB tight five will be able to do this, but they’ll surely be more capable of it than the Wallaby five, and were given a good tune up by the Pumas forwards in preparation.
The Springboks will also have a burning desire to get the job done after blowing their chance last year in Dunedin. Yes, their loss in that test can be put down to a couple of brilliant All Black tries, but equally some uncharacteristically bad goal-kicking from the Boks and some poor discipline.
Oh, and there was a guy named Richie McCaw, producing one of the greatest performances of his stellar career. Big factor that, and he will not be there in Auckland to get in the way, get opposition players out of the way, and generally have his way. No matter how you slice it up, it’s a huge loss.
Add the absence of McCaw to the fact that the Springboks have form, they have a full roster, they have power, they have confidence and a settled lineup, and they have every motivation possible under the sun.
You have to think why not this time, why not?
What stands in their way is the resolve of the All Blacks. Like any team they are driven by a desire to win, but they are also driven by a desperation not to lose. History motivates them….they don’t want to be the first All Black team since 1953 to lose to Wales, they don’t want to be the first All Black team in 10 years to hand back the Bledisloe Cup to Australia, and they don’t want to be the All Black team that snaps the 19-year, 30-test winning streak at fortress Eden Park.
They’ll have done their homework. They’ll know which players might fly out of the line on defence, which players might have a short fuse, and which players might pose the biggest threats and how they need to be defended.
They might also ponder that this is South Africa’s third game on the road in four weeks, and that some of the Springbok players have put in a lot of air miles of late. On that note, Heyneke Meyer will need to inject his subs prudently.
And there is no question, the All Black backline is the most potent in the game. If they are allowed any space, allowed to run, then the Bok defence will earn their keep.
And there is always the question of pressure…who gets to apply it, and who responds best under the blow torch. It’s something the home side have been pretty good at in recent years.
For all that, and while I lean (naturally you will no doubt say) towards an All Black win, it would not completely surprise me (and a lot of other New Zealanders, if our ReUnion poll this week is anything to go by) to see a Springbok victory.
Either way it should be a great test.
It’s the ultimate test of mind and body. It’s the greatest rivalry in rugby, and at the halfway point of the World Cup cycle it might not point a definite way ahead, but it might show us who’s heading in the right direction. There is much at stake.
Collision imminent. Strap yourselves in folks.