The Springboks have never been more potent – and the All Blacks have never been more fragile.
New Zealand’s World Cup players are psychologically at their most fragile. South Africa’s players’ mental state of mind has never been stronger.
It is why 2008 should be viewed as the year in which history gets made and the modern Bok finally loses the inferiority complex of playing the All Blacks.
The Boks have only once won a series in New Zealand, but the 2008 back-to-back Tests against the All Blacks in New Zealand represent a series that can and should be won by the Springboks.
The All Blacks, mentally, are as hard as marshmallows and Dan Carter unintentionally confirmed this when he said the pressure of winning the World Cup was too much for many of the All Blacks, himself included.
Carter said the unrelenting public expectation was driving All Blacks out of New Zealand to the calmer and less demanding environment of European club rugby.
If the next Bok coach gets it right in team selection and invests most of his faith in the existing World Cup squad he will have the beating of those New Zealanders scarred forever by their failure at this year’s World Cup.
Springboks interviewed recently are talking of the British and Irish Lions as the next big challenge. That’s two years away. The challenge has to be sorting out the All Blacks in 2008 and putting down the first marker en-route to a successful title defence in 2011.
The All Blacks, burdened by pressure, won’t win the 2011 World Cup. If they couldn’t deal with the pressure away from home they won’t cope at home.
The All Black implosion in Cardiff magnified the vulnerability of bullies who have folded every time opponents have physically matched them for 80 minutes at a World Cup.
The doubts that are there must be reinforced next year and the only ones capable of doing this are the Springboks. The proviso is to keep the bulk of the squad together and to evolve the squad in the next four years.
When Jake White arrived post the Rudolf Straeuli era it demanded a revolution in selection. Not so in 2008.
Another lesson from the World Cup is that rugby players need to play. The Springboks World Cup-winning starting team, with the exception of props Os du Randt and CJ van der Linde, averaged 23 matches in 2007.
The All Blacks team that lined up against France in Cardiff had played 12 matches in 2007. No reconditioning programme can stimulate a match environment.
The All Blacks at the World Cup were physically underdone in match fitness, whereas the Boks’ regular XV, having started seven of the eight Tests preceding the final, were at a rugby physical peak.
The Springboks, second to the All Blacks far too often in the last 15 years, have won back international respect for the jersey. They are rightly regarded the best team in the world at the moment, but it is a mantel that doesn’t have to be just for this year.
New Zealand’s players are already saying how much they’ve learned from losing and how much stronger they are from losing. But how much stronger can Byran Kelleher, as one example, get from losing three World Cups since 1999? Strength comes in winning and not losing.
South Africa has the strength because the stories our blokes are telling are of how much they learned from winning the World Cup.
We have a generation of player in this country better than New Zealand’s equivalent and we shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate this.
Winning the World Cup was not the end but the start that has to be carried through to New Zealand next season.