Boks must now climb Everest

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says a Bok win in a possible quarter-final against the Wallabies would come as a surprise.

Ireland turned the predictability of the World Cup play-offs upside down, but for all the new found hope among South African supporters I can’t see the Boks doing the same thing.

A week ago the Boks were rubbish, according to those on the social network. Once again they are a superpower.

There is no middle ground when it comes to South African rugby supporters – and may it never change. That kind of passion can’t be learned, but with blind faith comes inevitable disappointment when the obvious comes as a real shock. Remember how many were actually stunned when the All Blacks beat a second-string Bok XV 40-7 earlier this year? Too many.

On matters specific to the win against Fiji and the surge in confidence, Frans Steyn reveled in the midfield and the Springboks, apparently by their own admission, did a similar thing in playing the situation and not relying on a pre-match PowerPoint presentation of how to beat Fiji.

Bok lock Danie Rossouw admitted afterwards that it was never the plan for the Boks to be as bold and extravagant and added it showed the Boks could be more than boring.

There is a difference between clueless and boring. The Boks for too long have been clueless and, against better teams, who play with more structure in defence and more precision and aggression at the breakdown, it has been their undoing.

In Wellington, against inferior opposition, the Boks showed the immense individual talent of South African players. Francois Steyn was world class, Rossouw was ferocious and skilled and Heinrich Brussouw, Jaque Fourie, Bismarck du Plessis and Francois Hougaard were as good as they were in week one against Wales.

And never forget Schalk Burger. He is always worth two players. It was fun to watch, fun for the players to be a part of and a shift from the toil and hardship of the Tri Nations. It was a necessary and decisive hit out for the Boks against a team with the odd quality individual, but little collectively.

It is difficult to get too enthused about whipping Fiji and those doing cartwheels because the Boks scored six tries and scored 49 points against a team that conceded 25 to Namibia not only insult the pedigree of the Boks, but also miss the point. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in Wellington.

Fortunately captain John Smit wasn’t one of them and he said the most pleasing aspect was the Boks kept the Fijians tryless, albeit with a bit of help from the Islanders who self-destructed on attack and were never in the match defensively.

Fiji were good in the 2007 World Cup, but only three of the side that beat Wales to advance to the quarter-finals fronted the Boks in Wellington. Get excited that the Boks were willing to back their natural talent and instincts, but don’t get excited that Fiji represent anything in the context of winning this World Cup.

Ireland’s amazing victory against Australia in Auckland was more significant for the Boks than brushing aside Fiji. Every South African loves seeing Australia lose, but it was not the result the Boks would have expected or wanted.

Sure players have to back themselves to beat anyone to win this tournament but every Bok would rather entertain the prospect of Ireland in a quarter-final than an Australian side already taught a lesson in this tournament.

Jake White’s winning 2007 World Cup squad did not get to play Australia, New Zealand or France, but there hasn’t been similar good fortune for Peter de Villiers and there is no tougher assignment than having to beat Australia, probably New Zealand and possibly France in successive weekends in New Zealand. If the Boks negotiate those three mountains they will have scaled rugby’s Everest and it will rank as the greatest ever Bok achievement.

I can’t see it happening and it would be a surprise for the Boks to beat the Tri-Nations champions in the play-offs, if indeed this match-up takes place. As it stands it should with South Africa and Ireland the favourites to win their respective groups.

The Boks, like their supporters, will always have confidence and never be found wanting for self belief, but the reality is Australia has beaten South Africa four of the last five matches, including two in South Africa.

They are also on a three-match winning streak against the Boks and the match will be in Wellington and not at Eden Park – a ground that seems to scramble with the Australian minds as much as Ellis Park does those of the All Blacks.

Ireland’s win, brilliant to watch, exposed the lack of depth in the Australian pack and for the Wallabies to succeed flanker David Pocock and hooker Steven Moore have to be starting.

It makes for a fascinating next three weeks. The Boks will humiliate Namibia and get more than a few bruises against Samoa.

Australia is a different beast and they’re a side that has troubled South Africa even more than the All Blacks.

No matter what anyone may say and despite all the bravado among South Africa’s support base these are more nervous times for South Africa, as defending champion, than Australia as a potential champion.