RYAN VREDE writes that the Springboks are deluded if they believe the All Blacks still view their rivalry as the biggest in world rugby.
It is an age-old rivalry, forged and sustained from epic tussles, the likes of which have been uncommon in the modern era. The Springboks have consistently been on the wrong end of the result and this has steadily eroded the prestige of the fixture for the Blacks.
The Springboks, however, still believe they are held in high esteem by Richie McCaw’s men and New Zealand’s rugby fraternity . The reality is they haven’t commanded their respect since 2009, when they beat them thrice in succession. It has to be noted that that was an Blacks side without the injured Daniel Carter for two of their three Tests, and one featuring a string of players who either wouldn’t feature again at Test level or play bit-part roles in 2011.
The Springboks haven’t beaten them home or away since. They have a 42% overall win percentage against the Blacks, which drops to 40% under Peter de Villiers, in which time they’ve been blanked at Newlands in 2008, taken 20 and 14 points at home on consecutive weekends in 2010 and suffered a record defeat in Wellington in 2011. The three victories in 2009 regained a measure of respect, but the aforementioned maulings served to quickly dilute that.
Of course the Blacks have never verbalised their lowered estimation of a once-mighty foe, but there are overt clues that the Wallabies now command their attention, none more obvious than in their selection strategy in the current instalment of the Tri-Nations.
They played what resembled their strongest team against Australia in Auckland – not against the Springboks a week before – and have sent what the New Zealand media have dubbed the ‘back-up Blacks’ to front in Port Elizabeth, while their elite players prepare for a title defence against the Wallabies in Brisbane in a fortnight. Yes the Wallabies have only won 2 of their 13 Tests against the Blacks since 2008, but Robbie Deans’ charges have matured since their initial composition, boasting some of the leading players in their positions in the game. They are a considerably significant threat to the All Blacks than they have been at any stage of their development.
It was also a telling statement that the Blacks exhibited the kapo o pongo haka for Australia, a version normally reserved for what they perceive to be their very biggest matches.
The Springboks remind me of English football club Liverpool, who hold steadfastly that their biggest rivals are Manchester United. This while United has shifted its attention to the challenges of Arsenal, Chelsea, and, more recently, Manchester City. While they continue to value victories and lament defeats against Liverpool because of an historical rivalry, they no longer see them as the benchmark against which to measure themselves.
This is the reality the Springboks have to confront. The only way to regain respect is through consistently success against the Blacks.