Respect is the Bok recipe

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that for the Boks to win on Saturday they have to afford Ireland the necessary respect of a worthy opponent.

Australia still can’t knock over half-decent opposition away from home. The 29-all draw against Wales in Cardiff did more than signal a draw; it also showed how little the Springboks should have taken from their win against these Wobblies a couple of months ago.

To accurately assess the Boks of 2006 is to study their away form, and not a win against the Wallabies at Ellis Park. This away form – defeats against France, Ireland, England and Australia and New Zealand – should make you nervous about Saturday.

South Africans like to feed their own insecurities on home wins and playing Australia at home every year gives the nation the comfort that there is always one win to bank on. There is always one Saturday to feel good. The Wallabies, since 2001, have been woeful on the road.

The Boks, against the leading teams on the road, have been as poor.

Arrogance on Saturday will poison the Boks challenge in Dublin. Humility and respect for the opposition would bring out the best in Jake White’s young side.

I am not among those who believe the Boks are the favourites. Outside of Wales (in Cardiff) the Boks since 2000 have yet to beat that half-decent side up north.

I definitely believe they can win, but it is not something the South African public should take as a given. The Boks can win if their approach is right and if Ireland are accorded the necessary respect.

To beat a good opponent you have to acknowledge those strengths that need to be conquered. Ireland’s players are a settled combination playing in the comfort of their own backyard. We do know they can self-destruct when asked to perform as the favourites and they, very much like the Boks, thrive on being discarded or considered secondary to the occasion.

If Ireland do beat the Boks it won’t be the shock suggested by many. The Irish won the last time the two teams met and in their recent tour to New Zealand they were very good against an All Blacks team that whipped the Boks in New Zealand – a Bok team considerably stronger than the one on show in Dublin.

Northern hemisphere rugby is also not the easy beat those in the south like to believe. Only the All Blacks have mastered the northern hemisphere in recent years – and even they’ve been run close by Wales (in Cardiff) and England (at Twickenham). The Boks and Australia have all been beaten comprehensively by France, Ireland and England.

The Celtic League is tough. The English Premiership is considered possibly the toughest in the world, based on length of season, weather conditions and equality in squad strengths. The French Top 14 is as difficult a competition. And the European Cup is as good as anything in the south.

Springbok and Australian midweek teams have traditionally struggled against supposed inferior opposition and some of South Africa’s Currie Cup stars look like they’d struggle to make a club side when playing up north on a Bok tour.

Who knows what they put in the northern hemisphere water, but more good players have failed for the Boks up north than there are ordinary ones who have come good.

Victory on Saturday will be influenced by the breakdown battle and it is here where the Boks have to show Ireland and England respect. There has to be an acknowledgement that both these teams know how to ruck, counter-ruck and maul.

They also know how to play in the cold; something that doesn’t get mastered in two training sessions.

In 2004 White’s arrogance in believing that Ireland simply weren’t good enough to beat his team made for an embarrassing Saturday evening. It was a similar arrogance in believing that the French (in Cape Town in 2006) just weren’t good enough to topple the Boks.

Professionalism has physically balanced the individual match-ups. Weights and heights are similar, regardless of who is playing in the top six teams. What defines the victors usually is attitude and skill – a combination that has contributed greatly to the success of the All Blacks.

It is attitude more than skill that can win it for the Boks on Saturday. And the biggest part of that attitude has to come to the fore before kick-off. The Boks have to rate Ireland as a worthy contender if they are to conquer them. And they have to pick a team reflective of this respect.