It’s a fact: The Boks on the road are more putty than granite.
Perspective has been restored to the current Springbok squad after the struggle in Mendoza, but perspective is a good thing in the first fortnight of the Rugby Championship.
I bumped into a few ardent Boks supporters on Saturday afternoon after the All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup for the 11th successive year.
‘They’re beatable,’ they told me. ‘The Wallabies are KAK and they were taking them. The Boks will win the Rugby Championship for sure.’
I agreed the Boks had a good chance to win the tournament this season and added a lot would depend on how they traveled to Australia.
‘The Aussies are ‘KAK‘, they continued. ‘Don’t be so negative.’
I don’t know this band of Bok brothers, other than Saturday’s spontaneous interaction, but it would have been interesting to be in the huddle with them at around 23.00 on Saturday night after the Boks took 72 minutes to edge ahead against the Pumas in Mendoza before Morne Steyn sealed the match with a 79th minute penalty.
The Boks won by five in Mendoza whereas they had won by 60 against the same team in Soweto a week earlier.
A lot changes in rugby in seven days. It’s cliché, but it’s so true. A lot also changes when the Boks play at home and play away. The granite turns to putty.
The Boks next play in Brisbane at a ground that has traditionally favoured the Wallabies. Only the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks have known success in Brisbane in the last decade.
These ‘KAK’ Wallabies have done the Boks by plenty in Brisbane on too many occasions, and it is not just in Brisbane that they have worked over the Boks.
In the last 14 contests, the Australians have won nine with eight of the wins coming from the last 10 Tests.
The indifferent Bok performance in Mendoza is a good thing in that it doesn’t allow for the illusion that this is a team that has served its apprenticeship or arrived and settled into being the world’s leading team.
The win in Soweto showed the potential of the Boks. The regression in Mendoza showed us the current reality.
Beating the All Blacks occasionally at the highveldt should not be the measurement of the strength of Bok and South African rugby. Winning away from home regularly and doing so emphatically is a more accurate barometer.
The All Blacks, having claimed an 11th successive Bledisloe Cup series win in Wellington, have been ranked one in the world since December 2009, in which time they have won four Bledisloe Cups, a Tri Nations, A Rugby Championship and a World Cup. They have also won away from home in Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland, in Australia (several times) and in South Africa (several times).
It is this consistency that still escapes the Springboks and two World Cup successes in 1995 and 2007 doesn’t negate the inconsistency of not being able to regularly dominate away from home.
The Boks knew what to expect in Mendoza. The hosts would be passionate and fired up, would use every means (legal and illegal) to be competitive. The crowd would be difficult and boisterous. The hosts would grow an extra arm and a leg.
And despite the 60-point beating of a week earlier the Pumas and their supporters would never stop believing a victory was possible.
If it sounds insane then it isn’t because I could be talking about a limited Bok team (and there have been several in the last 20 years), their unfailing and loyal home support base and their transformation from pathetic to powerful when playing at home.
Mendoza was a good measurement of how much work this team still has to do and that some of our good young players aren’t quite the greats they have been anointed, based on a year of international rugby.
Eben Etzebeth has the potential over the next decade to be among the game’s best but Mendoza showed he is still an international pup when compared to the old dog Bakkies Botha.
Etzebeth is just one example. JJ Engelbrecht, a work in progress, in no Jaque Fourie just yet, Willem Alberts and Beast Mtiwareara are playing more on reputation than performance, Ruan Pienaar, as a starting option, has limitations, Bjorn Basson would not make a World XV and is fortunate to be in a Bok XV and Willie le Roux is capable of a shocker.
In Soweto there was acknowledgement for the quality of performance. In Mendoza there has to be acknowledgement as to why the lack of quality.
The Pumas, at home, are not that bad and the Boks, away from home, are not that good.
It’s good to keep this in mind with the Boks traveling to Brisbane in a fortnight to play those ‘KAK’ Wallabies.