Boks to seize Loftus lifeline

JON CARDINELLI writes that Heyneke Meyer’s Springboks will record their first victory against Australasian opposition when they return to Loftus Versfeld this Saturday.

Consider the excuses for the recent run of results: A new team is building; they’re missing key players due to injuries; wins Down Under are rare; and their once flawless goal-kicker is horribly out of form.

These are excuses that may explain why the Boks are under-performing, but are we to accept that things are so bad that the Boks cannot beat the Wallabies and All Blacks in South Africa? Certainly not.

These are desperate times in the sense that the Boks are desperate for a winning result. They haven’t won since that opening Rugby Championship game in Cape Town. Their last three results have been a draw, a loss, and another loss.

Forget about winning the Rugby Championship title, that opportunity has come and gone. The Boks need to do whatever it takes to get back to winning ways, and in terms of the two matches that remain in this competition, the first in Pretoria represents the best opportunity.

The significance of where they are playing shouldn’t be understated. The Boks have a remarkable record at Loftus Versfeld, especially against the Wallabies. Since the first game played at this venue in 1963, the Boks have beaten the Wallabies in each of the five Tests.

What will also encourage the Boks is that the Wallabies are missing some key personnel. Injuries have taken their toll this year, and the team that plays at Loftus will be sans David Pocock, Will Geina, Quade Cooper and James O’Connor to name a few.

The Wallabies traditionally struggle on the Highveld, and only recently broke a 47-year losing streak. Kurtley Beale’s last-gasp penalty in a 2010 Test played in Bloemfontein gave the Wallabies their first win at altitude since 1963. It showed that they are capable of winning in that difficult environment, that not every game played on the Highveld is a guaranteed win for the Boks.

Meyer and company will be mindful of this as they plan for the coming match. But then again, Meyer will be desperately hoping that Loftus works its magic, that the partisan crowd lifts the Boks, and reduces the Wallabies to quivering wrecks.

A loss at this stronghold would be a disaster. The Boks have already lost the last five Tests played against the Wallabies. They need to break that spell. If they can’t do that against a young Wallabies side, playing at the fortress that is Loftus Versfeld… well then where can they do it?

The Boks will win this Saturday. They will break their losing streak against Australia, and record their first win against Australasian opposition under Meyer.

I wouldn’t be as confident if this Test was to be played at sea level. Up on the Highveld, Meyer’s Boks will use their Loftus lifeline. They will beat the Wallabies and take some much needed momentum into the following fixture against the All Blacks.

Mediocrity should never be tolerated, and Meyer himself has been open regarding his ambition to attain an 80% winning record. His current stats are nowhere near as impressive, but this coming Saturday could be seen as a start.

If the Boks can beat the Wallabies, then there is another big opportunity the following week when they host the All Blacks in Soweto. New Zealand may arrive in South Africa having already won the title, and so may not possess the type of motivation needed to beat the Boks at altitude.

Two wins in these last two matches would give Meyer a 50% record against the Australasian teams. It is a record that is no worse than what Jake White achieved in his first year in charge (2004), and is better than the Peter de Villiers-driven side of 2008 that won just two out of six.

Two wins for the Boks wouldn’t be significant in the context of the Rugby Championship or in terms of climbing the world rankings, but it would restore the status quo.

For a side that is missing key players and struggling for form, Meyer’s Boks will certainly view a two from four return against the Australasian sides as a satisfactory outcome.

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