The only way to predict a Bok victory is on good faith. And that’s exactly what we’ve done for Saturday’s tour opener against Ireland in Dublin.
The Boks to take it by five, but this is a call made more in hope than any conviction. Pick the right score and win a year’s subscription to SA Rugby Magazine.
To those who dabble in such nonsense as breaking everything down to a simple ‘positive and negative’, I am not being positive in picking a Bok win. If anything I am being bloody stupid as Superrugby’s Gavin Rich told me. My response was that you get one match in which to be stupid and this is mine.
So pick a Bok win because it makes you feel good, but don’t jeopardise your finances on the basis of a green and gold triumph.
I have doubts about this Bok team, just as I have doubts about how Ireland handle the favourites’ tag.
Now to the match:
This particular Bok line-up has never played together. It shows 11 changes and one positional switch to the side that beat Australia in Johannesburg.
Even the Bok coach Jake White has acknowledged he does not know what to expect from an experimental side that is a mixture of youth and pensioners. In Johan Ackermann White has a 36 year-old who hasn’t played a test for five years. In Francois Steyn he has a 19 year-old who has never played a test, let alone started a senior game as a winger. In Jaco Pretorius he has a Sevens specialist and outside centre starting on the wing.
White, by selecting a monster pack, believes this is the way to beat a very settled Irish combination, who have picked a more conventional pack. The hosts also believe in a flanker who plays to the ball and is a specialist ball scavenger. Just as much as this is a test of one country against another, it is also a battle about a different playing and selection philosophy.
If you listen to both camps it is hard to pick a winner. The Boks tell you they have energy, enthusiasm and the desire to win. The Irish say the same thing. Bok players tell you their confidence is at a high. So too the Irish players. Both coaches have tried to talk up being the underdog, but the players in both teams privately confess to a confidence that victory is theirs.
There is simply no yardstick with which to measure this Springbok team. There can be no informed opinion on how they will do.
We do know that players like Lawrence Sephaka, Ackermann, Albert van den Berg, Ricky Januarie and Andre Pretorius are playing for World Cup squad selection comfort. If these players fail on the tour it is doubtful White will invest in them next year.
Ireland are very settled and they have been so for a couple of years.
They were as settled when they arrived in South Africa in 2004 and spoke of a first ever series win in the Republic. A young Bok team kicked their backsides, but pivotal to this young Bok team was a young flanker named Schalk Burger and a beast of a lock named Bakkies Botha. It was a very different looking Bok team, in terms of potential, to the one that plays in Dublin. The match was also in Bloemfontein, with playing conditions totally different to what the Boks will experience in Dublin.
The weather is cold here in Dublin, but there hasn’t been rain. There is the prospect of rain during the game, which will only make the Boks’ task that much harder.
Logic says Ireland should win, but logic usually counts for nothing in test matches. Logic also suggested an Irish win in South Africa in 2004.
I’m backing a Bok win by five points, but don’t ask me what I have based this on.
It isn’t even a gut feel, but a call born from the belief that this Bok team will either succeed or flop miserably.
White has had four weeks to prepare this team, whereas a side like the All Blacks only had a fortnight between the New Zealand domestic final and the test win against England. There can be no preparation excuses. There can also not be the excuse of fatigue, with only three players having taken part in the Currie Cup final. Of the run-on XV, half have not played a match since the first week in September. And half of the remaining players have not played a match in six weeks.
White’s decision to withdraw the Boks from all domestic rugby post the Tri Nations will be examined as much as the Boks this Saturday.
There are several tests within this test. Let’s hope that the one determined by a final score favours the Boks. If not, the next fortnight in London could be brutal.