Boks under achieve in 2008

The Springboks are a better team than the current All Blacks – and Saturday’s Test against the Poms at Twickenham will prove it.

One thing New Zealanders love to do is talk up their All Blacks. It is something those in the northern hemisphere also take great delight in – that is talking up the men in black.

It could be that it makes defeat against them seem honourable and bearable. It could also be that New Zealand, as a nation, has never done anything to offend anyone, whereas white South Africans will always live with the baggage of apartheid.

The rugby world, post 1994, has come to accept and tolerate us, but – with the possible exception of the French – they don’t like us.

It is why the Springboks will simply have to settle for winning World Cups while the All Blacks continue to win over fans and the northern hemisphere rugby media every November.

New Zealand once again have the mantle of best team in the world in a non-World Cup year. This New Zealand team will be even better in 2009 and in 2010 they will be unbeatable. In 2011 they will implode and the cycle will continue and we’ll be told by New Zealanders that the World Cup has killed international rugby and that the yellow cup really means nothing because a team has to be judged over a four-year period and not a three week play-off period.

Which brings me back to the weekend’s Test matches. I must confess to cheating this weekend, as I never watched the Springboks or All Blacks matches live. I viewed both games knowing the result and without the additional pressure of having to file on the final whistle – hence the lateness of the column.

What it confirmed to me, and it is something I have been saying for a couple of years, is that the Springboks possess the better individual talent, with the exception of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, who are two of the finest to play the game. This current generation of South African player is among the most special ever produced in this country, and that is why the expectation must be high and performances like the one against Scotland two Saturdays ago can’t be justified or tolerated.

It is the dismantling of England at Twickenham that sets a standard, much like the Boks did in Paris when they humiliated England 36-0 in a World Cup play-off match.

You can tell me England are poor and in a shambles, but only two weeks ago we were being told this is a new generation of English player, good enough to beat Australia, South Africa and New Zealand on successive weekends. The wise scribes in the United Kingdom also told us that the Boks were the weakest of the Tri nations teams. It was based on the statistical evidence of the Boks finishing third in the Tri Nations – a result that was as unacceptable as the performance against Scotland.

In assessing the year, nine Bok wins in 13 starts statistically is a very good return, but it is the two Tri Nations wins in six matches that will define the season because this was the year in which the World Cup holders should have been superior to New Zealand and Australia in belief and results.

New Zealand, this year, lost 13 of their World Cup All Blacks to Europe. Many of them will return to New Zealand in 2011 and be good enough to challenge for a World Cup squad, while Australia also entered a rebuilding phase. With the Springboks, there was no rebuilding because there was no need for a makeover of a World Cup winning squad with an average age of 25. It is why 2008 will always be the season of missed opportunity. The brilliant win against England only emphasized how much was missed in the Tri Nations.

A settled Bok team, with so much natural talent, should have whipped the All Blacks and Wallabies, home and away, and then there would have been a supporting argument to my theory that South Africa’s players are better than New Zealand’s. Instead I’ll continue to get the 19-0 defeat at Newlands thrown at me and the names of Carter and McCaw. On the latter I concede, but overall the only thing the All Blacks should be beating the Boks at is the ridiculously overhyped pre-match haka.

Take it from me, New Zealand, if they play to their potential, won’t beat England by 36 points this weekend because they are not as good a side as a Bok side in full throttle, and that is why 2008 was the year in which the Boks stumbled when they should have soared.